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Ribeyrolles 1918 – France’s First Assault Rifle or a Failed Prototype?


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and today we’re talking
about a prototype French assault rifle / submachine gun, the Fusil Automatique
1918, the automatic rifle model of 1918. This was designed by a guy named Paul Ribeyrolles,
or as it would be spelled in English Ribeyrolles. He was actually the manager of
the Gladiator bicycle factory, and became something of an arms design
expert himself over the course of being heavily involved in the design of the 1915
Chauchat, or CSRG, the R in that name is for Ribeyrolles and the G is for Gladiator,
his factory, where the guns were built. He was also involved in the RSC 1917/1918
guns, again the R is Ribeyrolles. And so, he was involved in arms design, and
in particular in some of the most advanced forward-looking arms design that the French
military was doing during World War One. And the 1918 automatic rifle, or automatic
carbine some sources call it, was definitely on this forefront. It
was a select-fire, intermediate cartridge, magazine-fed short carbine. In concept one of the very first weapons
to embody this role of the assault rifle. Now, it wasn’t the very first, in addition to some experimental ones that I may not be thinking of, there was also actually an American weapon,
which we did a video on, the 1917 Burton rifle. That fulfilled all of these roles and actually had
more than a few similarities to the 1918 Ribeyrolles. That came a year before, Burton was 1917,
but the reason that people are aware of this 1918 French firearm is because it was
added into the video game ‘Battlefield 1’. It’s in there and a lot of people are wondering
well, what’s the deal? Where are they? People would like to see one. Unfortunately,
to the best of my knowledge, there are no surviving examples, and there’s basically only one existing photograph of the gun, and it’s this. So overall, this thing was 1.09 metres long, that’s about 43 inches, which means it is
just about the same size as an Indochina pattern Berthier, except it would have had a
magazine, right about here in the middle. And one of the big things about this
particular rifle is that it was heavy. So the thing weighed 5.1 kilograms.
That’s 11.25 pounds. Think of this kind of
like a Thompson, except longer. That’s a really heavy gun, … for an
infantry sort of shoulder weapon. The reason it was that heavy is that
it was a simple blowback action, and it was chambered for
either 8×35 or 8×32 semi-rimmed. (Different sources give different numbers.) That cartridge was basically the
.351 Winchester self-loading cartridge, which the French used in the
Winchester 1907 rifles during the war. They basically took that cartridge, gave it a semi-rim
(so … a rim that was a little bit wider in diameter than the cartridge body), presumably to
get better extraction, although that would also probably hinder its feeding in magazines.
Anyway, they took that cartridge case, they sized the neck to .32 calibre, or 8mm, and used
an armour-piercing 8mm Lebel rifle projectile in it. All of this seems pretty slick and pretty forward-
thinking. It really was … an intermediate power cartridge. The simple blowback action means it
had to have a pretty darn heavy bolt in order to handle that cartridge.
Typically when we look at intermediate cartridge weapons like
AR-15, AKs, the German Sturmgewehr, all of these guns have locked breech
actions, and they’re still fairly heavy. The Ribeyrolles had just a simple
blowback, like a submachine gun. It used a 25 round magazine. And it was actually first introduced in the summer
of 1918, where it was tested at Versailles. Ribeyrolles presented this to the French
military for their testing, and unfortunately the testing went really pretty poorly.
The gun had significant reliability issues. If I’m reading it right, the one piece
of data I saw said that they tried firing 75 rounds in semi-auto,
and they had 53 malfunctions, so not quite there in 1918. And then, of course,
the war ended in November of 1918, before the gun had a chance to be
developed and perfected any more. Now it did come back after the end of the
war, and in 1921 Ribeyrolles presented it again for further testing in the
summer of 1921 at Camp de Chalons, and it didn’t apparently really do much better. … Even if it had worked perfectly at that point,
it was honestly too far ahead of its time to be adopted at that point. The
French military was trying to fit this into … one of the roles that
they had in mind for small arms, and so what they were picturing
was an infantry rifle, and like an individual weapon, which would have
been something like a submachine gun, looking at the German MP18 sort of concept.
And the problem they had was that this Ribeyrolles 1918, it was too heavy to
be a submachine gun, at 11.25 pounds it was too much, and they didn’t think it fit
that role. It was also too underpowered, as an intermediate cartridge, to
fill the role of an infantry rifle. They found that its effective range
pretty much ended at 400 metres, and remember, this is still in the day of
“we want 800 – 1,000 metre effective range”, the French would eventually go on … Actually
what they would adopt fairly shortly after this was the 7.5x54mm rifle cartridge, which is
just slightly less powerful than 7.62 NATO. And obviously, that’s what they were
looking for, not an intermediate cartridge. On the one hand you could look at
this as being a huge oversight, and a missed opportunity to really get
the jump on small arms technology again. On the other hand it’s worth considering that
they almost certainly wanted one cartridge to use in both machine guns and rifles, and
something like an intermediate cartridge, like 8×32 or 8×35 semi-rimmed, was
not an effective machine gun cartridge. And so that’s justification to reject it.
Now, should they have used it? Yeah, probably,
if the gun had worked reliably, and again it’s important to point out
that it didn’t. In fact, as best I can tell, they only ever made a grand total of 3,000
rounds of ammunition for the thing. I don’t know how many actual examples of the
gun were made, but it certainly was not many. As far as I know, none of them survive
to this day. So that is why I am doing this discussion
of this gun here in my chair, instead of waiting to actually bring you one from
a museum. Because I’m pretty sure I’m never actually gonna find one,
because I don’t think any of them exist. So that is the story of the
Fusil Automatique 1918 Ribeyrolles. Hopefully you guys enjoyed it. If you
enjoy using it in Battlefield 1, awesome. It’s worth being aware that in video
games they don’t ever have malfunctions, and that was the primary downfall
of this particular weapon in reality. Thanks for watching. Tune in again
tomorrow for another Forgotten Weapon.

100 thoughts on “Ribeyrolles 1918 – France’s First Assault Rifle or a Failed Prototype?

  1. I am surprised they could not get this working well. Do you think it was the semi-rim? Being a simple blow-back should lend itself to be easy to get running, at least in my experience.

  2. Were those show offs like Kickstarter of the day? Buy my idea even though what you see now is terrible?

  3. Nice video, although as a gamer I should note that there are some games that do model weapon malfunction (E.g. Far Cry 2, some others as well) but they've never been very popular.

  4. The 'l' of "fusil" is not pronounced.
    Just prononce "fusi" with the same 'i' as Uzi.

    And for "automatique" just less accentuation on the "ti" and a longer "que" and you will be just right.

  5. I quite enjoy this gun's inclusion in BF1 as it shows just how useful it would have been, had it been reliable. It's not too effective in close quarters, but that wouldn't factor into real life very much; one or two shots would down a man in the real world. However, at range it is quite useful, compared to say, the Beretta M1918 or the MP18.

  6. 7:28 America's Army 2 actually had a weapon jam mechanic that was pretty damn cool. Wish more games had that.

  7. It would be super neat if a company found old designs of guns that no longer exist and manufactured functional replicas for collectors.

  8. I don't play a lot of games, but glad you did this video. You speak to the theory of military adoption rather than trying to talk it up.

  9. Have you contacted the STAT at Versailles?
    It's the army's technical section, and I know for a fact that they have an armory filled with over a century's worth of obscure prototype weapons that even you have never even heard of.
    If there is a surviving prototype, it will be there.

  10. Forgotten Weapons Hey Ian, not trying to be a tool or anything but to say “1918” in French, the way we always spoke anyway, was pronounced «Mille-neuf-cent-dix-huit» keep up the amazing work! You’ve inspired me to become a firearms engineer and I’ve used your videos (cited too) in my engineering projects at university. Cheers from Canada eh! 🇨🇦

  11. I think I'm going to start using ammo boxes as book ends to troll the fuck out of visitors. Brilliant.

  12. Speaking of Winchester 1907, you should do a video on them. I've always wanted to have one in my collection.

  13. I'm sure someone already pointed this out, but you don't pronounce the last L in "Fusil". the word is pronounced "Fuzi" (like the UZI with an F at the beginning)

  14. This actually made me kinda sad.
    It's my fave gun in Bf1, and I know that it was a late development and all.

    But to hear that none on them actually survived really brings me down. I would just love to see one, even if it was just a wall hanger, non functional one.
    Oh well, plenty of other guns to see!

  15. This was one of the first Proto-Assault Rifles and sadly it came to early before anybody could understand the concept it represented even if itself wasn't a great gun also you are correct there were guns that filled the rolls of assault rifle like the Federov Avtomat but the Russians used that as a SAW rather than an assault rifle. also I do enjoy this gun in BF1

  16. On a un donc une arme arrivé bien trop tôt, pour un rôle mal perçus. Mais pourtant qui aurait tellement changé de choses sur le terrain …

  17. A 351 Win wildcat? That would be a good project. 8mm bullets would be great for it. A wildcat with history.

    Has any of the load data or ammo specs survived and if so, where can I find the info?

  18. Awesome stuff. Battlefield is the reason I started learning and researching on WW1 and firearms. Your channel is fantastic for this. And it's great finding out a bit about some of the more obscure weapons of the war that BF1 chose to include. So thank you 🙂

  19. Please please please do the Huot Automatic Rifle, I know that at least 5 of them exist. I love the weapon in BF1 and I’d really like to see one in real life.

  20. So, exactly how does it work when something is tested, then tested again 3 years later, but with no improvements?

    Do the people making the guns not test them themselves? Why even bother admiting a firearm you know doesn't function very well at all?

  21. One thing I hate is when reputable gun people use the term "Assault Rifle". Ugh. Come on Ian, Im sure you know better than this.

  22. Hi Ian greetings from Venezuela, as always cool video. You now a few years ago a went to Paris with my brothers and we visit the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides to see the tomb of Napoleon and as you now in that museum there is a large collection of earlier french automatic rifles, pistols, submachine guns and machine guns, and I can swear that I saw a Ribeyrolles 1918 on display. I'm probably wrong but who knows. It may be the only one in existence

  23. A) According to Michael Bussard's "Ammo Encyclopedia", the .351 Winchester was designed with a semi-rim from the start. I am sorry if I am repeating what numerous other people have already posted.

    B) The Winchester Self-Loading cartridges are interesting if you are imagining a better submachine gun cartridge than the pistol cartridges available in the 1920's and 1930's. I think any blowback weapon designed around the .351 or .401 is going to be too heavy, as was the case with the Ribeyrolles here. OTOH, the .32 WSL and .35 WSL were already obsolete and may not have offered enough of an increase in power to be worth the trouble.

    C) But the .32 WSL was redesigned to become the .30 M1 carbine round (again according to Bussard) so there was potential there. The semi-rim was DROPPED in that evolution.

    D) .351 was never a big deal as a hunting round, but it was popular with law enforcement…and their opposition. Up in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, there is still a bar or inn where John Dillinger shot it out with Melvin Purvis of the FBI and escaped over a nearby frozen lake. They still have some .351 WSL cartridges left behind by Dillinger.

  24. Watching this cuz I just got BF1. Honestly its a letdown. The game is fine but forcing so many automatic prototype guns just makes the game feel like you're playing a WW2 game with WW1 skins. Oh, and the singleplayer is somehow BOTH overproduced and way too short.

  25. I've always considered the first true "assault rifle" was the Winchester 1907 Self Loading rifle, or at least the select fire ones contracted by the French in WWI.

  26. It's amazing how many weapons and vehicles where made right as the armistice was signed and never saw action. the Rebeyrolles the French Char 2c Super tank and so many more.

  27. Ian has a good point. He has stated the French at that time were wah ahead of every one else and should get more respect. I now agree with him! They fielded the first simi auto and started testing the first "assault weapon" wow

  28. "in video games, they (guns) don't ever have malfunctions," perhaps Ian is unaware of the Fallout and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (though the latter only has you simply reload guns when they jam). There are other games that have malfunctions as well, but I cannot think of any right now.

  29. I always ask where all these few-made guns are. Just think that all these prototypes were developed more than 100 years ago

  30. The Ribeyrolles was my favorite assault weapon in BF1. It just got released again in BFV, and operates alot different then the BF1 version but again is my favorite weapon for the assault class haha

  31. Its now in bfv, which confuses me as to why they would put it in. seems kind of lazy with the number of prototype ww1 guns that were never used, but were in bf1.

  32. I bet some French bar has one hanging above the bar tenders and they don't know how valuable it is, I seen old rifles hanging in bars in Poland when I visit my family and some are very rare and deactivated by a welding the bolt shut

  33. I bet some French bar has one hanging above the bar tenders and they don't know how valuable it is, I seen old rifles hanging in bars in Poland when I visit my family and some are very rare and deactivated by a welding the bolt shut

  34. French made a 11lb blowback rifle that fires 8*35.
    Americans at the same time made a 11lb delayed blowback carbine that fires .45 acp.
    emmmm

  35. Ribeyrolles lives again in BFV….very effective & deadly in game for such a flash in the pan prototype with malfunctions IRL.

  36. Doesn't the 1915 Fedorov Avtomat count as an earlier assault rifle design, or does it's cartridge prevent that classification?-John in Texas

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