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RSC 1917: France’s WW1 Semiauto Rifle


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian, I am here today at the Rock Island Auction house. I’m looking at some of the guns they’re going to be selling in the December of 2015 Premiere auction here. And I wonder how many of you guys realise that the French actually mass issued almost 100,000 semi-automatic rifles during World War One. This is an example of one of them, this is an RSC Model of 1917 rifle, and in total the French built and issued about 86,000 of these guns during the First World War. A lot earlier than most people think we had military designed semi-auto rifles. So, the French don’t get much respect for small arms design, but they ought to. Between 1894 and 1913, the beginning of the war, the French actually went through testing of nearly 20 different self-loading rifle prototypes. Some of them were better than others, this was a period where the French had adopted the first, … well they developed smokeless powder, they had adopted the first small bore bolt-action repeating rifle, … that was in 1886. Within ten years they knew that that wasn’t going to be at the forefront of technology for long, and they really needed to be investigating self-loading rifles. So they got right into it. Now this was a period
where the metallurgy, and the understanding of how to design semi-automatic rifles really
hadn’t matured yet. So every country in the world (or every country that was looking at self-loading rifles)
was going through a lot of different prototypes trying to find something that could function effectively with the full power ammunition of the day. Now the French … one of the experimental rifles
that they worked on, it was designated the A6 Meunier rifle (for its designer, Meunier). That one
was actually a pretty darn good rifle on its own, and what’s interesting about it is that it was
designed around its own proprietary ammunition, a 7mm Meunier cartridge. It was rimless, it was
quite powerful, it was a quite modern round. However, as with the rest of these prototypes,
the French kind of abandoned them when World War One started looming, figuring that you
didn’t want to be testing out an experimental rifle and changing things up right on the eve of war.
Better to stick with, even if it’s a lower tech rifle, stick with the one you have, the one you know, the
one you can produce quickly. So as World War One continued longer than anybody thought it would,
the French realised that we really need to get back in the game here and get something semi-automatic,
and they actually built a thousand of those A6 Meunier rifles and issued them, along
with their own proprietary ammunition. But this really was kind of a stop-gap measure
while they tried to develop a semi-automatic rifle that would use the standard 8mm Lebel ammunition
that they were already supplying for all of their other guns. Now that rifle that they were designing was
the RSC Model of 1917, which we have here. It was actually adopted in mid 1916 and then it took until
April of 1917 to actually get it into mass production. Really not bad, not a bad time frame at all, considering the stresses on the French economy during World War One. So RSC stands for the initials of the three designers, or co-designers, of this rifle, Ribeyrolles, Chauchat and Sutter. They are also three of the guys behind the Chauchat light machine gun (or automatic rifle). They put this together on pretty darn short notice, it was May of 1916 when it was actually … the prototype was
finished and enough testing had been done and it was formally adopted, and then by April of
1917 it was actually in mass production and examples started arriving on the front lines for soldiers to use. Now it … used a five round clip of standard 8mm Lebel ammunition. Unfortunately, because this thing had been in
development during the first part of 1916, that was the same time that a totally different
group of people was working on developing the 5 round clip for the Berthier bolt-action rifle, and the two groups apparently didn’t really talk to each other because they
ended up with two separate clip designs. So the RSC 1917 does not use the standard 5 round Berthier clip. Now they would rectify that in 1918. They updated
and fixed a number of issues with these rifles and redesignated a Model of 1918, but that
didn’t go into production … basically right until the war was over. So these 1917 guns
use a very rare clip. There were some reproductions of them made a number
of years ago by some guys in Europe. Today, it’s difficult to find clips for these rifles. However what
you would do … well, we’ll go into the loading in a moment. What you have here is an 11.5 pound rifle. So kind of heavy, especially by today’s standards. But not bad for the first mass issued semi-automatic rifle in military service. They were renowned to be quite accurate. They do have a fixed barrel, they use a … long stroke gas piston operating system. And they were issued out 16 rifles per company. Given … basically to the guys who could best
exploit them. So, company commanders, guys with particularly good marksmanship
skills, the people with the fighting spirit who could really … who would appreciate
and make good use of these rifles. There was never enough production, and I don’t
think the French ever anticipated there would be enough production, to make them
standard issue for everybody. So they put them where they would do the most good. So one last little anecdote before we move
in and look at the internals of this rifle. The French military had this kind of operating
policy of fixing problems and updating weapons by supplying kits of parts to the troops in the field.
So you know, if you needed to replace the butt-stocks, well they’d send out kits of parts
that you could replace onto existing rifles to move from the old version to the current version. And it’s funny that when the RSC 1917 was
proposed and adopted it was actually adopted under the guise, the story, of actually being
an upgrade kit for an 1886 Lebel rifle. Now you look at this thing, you may wonder
how on earth do you convert a Lebel to semi-automatic action. The answer is you really
don’t, the only parts that this thing shared with the Lebel were the butt-stock the fore-end
and the fore-end hardware, the bands. In fact it’s funny, if you look at this, the middle
band is actually underneath the handguard here, because the Lebel did not have a handguard,
so the middle band was designed to be right in contact with the barrel. This rifle
does have a handguard, so they just slapped it down on top so that you didn’t have to have
a new barrel band made. At any rate, you’d basically take the wood off of a Lebel rifle, throw the Lebel rifle
away and then put the wood onto this RSC rifle. Now they did some cool things in the process, for
example, the Lebel had a tube magazine under the barrel, the RSC uses that exact same channel
in the the fore-end of the stock as the gas piston channel, so … it’s kind of clever the way they are able to at least reuse a couple parts. But yeah, the idea that this was a
conversion kit for a Lebel was kind of a joke. Alright, so as I mentioned, this is a long stroke gas piston operated gun, so we have a gas piston that is running from here, (this is our gas plug, which we’ll take a look at in just a moment) all the way down the tube that would have been the magazine tube in a Lebel, down to here. At this point it comes out and this is actually a cover plate over the operating rod. Think of this as very
much like the operating rod on an M1 Garand, it’s actually quite similar. Then the op rod comes out here, it expands to this large plate which covers the ejection port and that is what operates right here. We have a rather large rotating bolt that locks. Now one of the problems with this rifle was that it does still have this big open channel behind the bolt, and predictably mud and dirt and crap got into the guns here and caused malfunctions. From there it can drop down into the firing mechanism, gum up the firing mechanism, not good. Now I mentioned that they did change a bunch of elements on this rifle and updated them in 1918. One of the things they added was a sliding dust cover that would close off this open slot. So that was a good improvement. Now one other element of this rifle is we do have a manual hold open. I can lock this little tab into that cut-out on the op rod, lock the rifle open. The 1918 rifle another one of the improvements was making this automatic. So when the rifle was empty it would lock open, so that as the shooter you knew that you were empty. Now to reload this what we do, it’s kind of counterintuitive, we take this magazine cover, pull it down slip a clip into that and then close the magazine cover on top of it. This doesn’t eject clips, they don’t drop free, when you fire the fifth round and open this up, only then does the empty clip fall out. We have a follower mechanism under here and when I start to close that you can see that’s our follower mechanism. It’s spring loaded, so it will lock open here, but then, there we go, it puts a nice amount of pressure on the cartridges to feed once the cover is closed. So yeah, this isn’t a terrible stop-gap idea, it does keep the bottom end of the action clean and free of debris. Not exactly a fast reload by today’s standards though. Our sights here are standard Lebel rifle sights.
The barrels on these guns were actually Berthier rifle barrels, simply because in 1917 they were no longer
manufacturing new Lebels, but they were manufacturing Berthiers. So they just took Berthier barrels to use. As is typical on this style of sight we have this
kind of cut-out here in the front handguard. The reason for that is that your battle sight zero is this, with the sight folded all the way
forward. We have an open U notch here. If you want to shoot at very long range you leave the sight standing up and if you want two, three or four hundred yards … I’m sorry 400 to 800 yards. You’ve got the notes
here … marked on the side of the rifle. That’s when you use the sight down in the rear,
your battle sight is all the way forward. So you’ll notice this is marked MAS 1917. 1917 is the date of manufacture, the ‘S’ stands for Saint-Etienne.
The manufacture of the parts for these guns was broken up between all the different state arsenals, but Saint-Etienne is
the arsenal that actually assembled all of these (or almost all of them). Now for disassembly, what we want to do, this is a little bit wonky, undo this … take this tab, push this tab down, and then we can unscrew the the rear end cap. There’s no spring in here to pop out, the
mainspring is actually in the gas piston, down under here. So now, what I’m going to do is … drop the bolt, and then I pick up (See if I can show this to you better.) I’m going to pull the bolt handle out and that will allow me
to separate the bolt and its handle from this operating rod. there we go Now our bolt will come out the back. So this is a six lug rotating bolt, we can rotate it a little farther and pull it out. This is a matching bolt to the gun, which is nice,
unfortunately this one has a clipped firing pin. So it is not currently in fireable condition, but that shouldn’t be that hard to replace. So what happens is while the bolt is cycling,
it’s in this forward position, (that pin is dropped down flush) And then, when it closes, the bolt rotates 90 degrees, locks in place, (you can actually see the locking recesses in the receiver), and then the hammer strikes this firing pin, fires the rifle, gas is vented out the bottom of the gas port,
comes back, hits the gas piston, the gas piston pushes back here, which is connected to the bolt handle, drives the bolt back, that forces the bolt head to unlock
and then the whole thing cycles and loads a new cartridge. Now, it is relevant for us to take … a closer look at this gas port, because in 1935, a bunch of these rifles were converted into straight
pull bolt actions and issued out to reservists. For whatever reason they didn’t trust them with
semi-autos, I suppose. But not all of these guns are functional semi-autos anymore, as far as I
can tell, this one is. Let’s take a closer look. Alright, the gas port design on this is actually kind of cool
and clever. The center stud right there with a vertical hole in it, that ports into the barrel. And then you can see that there is a hole in this outer circular sleeve right back here.
That hole leads to the actual gas piston. You then have a plug, right here, the inside of this is threaded and this screws down onto that stud and this has two holes in it, one on
either side, and you can see that it actually has a relieved area in the middle, so right up here is wider and this is wider and that forms pretty much a gas seal. Gas is vented into this centre area and that allows it to go from this vertical port into the gas piston there, without blowing
directly onto the face of the gas piston. So, in theory, that should do something to help prevent gas piston erosion. In practice, these did have problems with parts
breakage, the bolt and the op rod breaking. The metallurgy of the time, they just didn’t quite have self-loading rifle mechanisms up to par yet. Thank you guys for watching, I hope you enjoy the video. I hope you learned something about the RSC here. Certainly a lot of people don’t realise that the French were actually
the first country to mass issue self-loading rifles to the military. They beat the M1 Garand by about 20
years into major field service, and with a remarkably good gun, considering it was something
designed and built under the stresses of a wartime economy. So, if you would like to own this one yourself,
it is of course coming up for sale here at Rock Island, this is an auction house. If you take a look at the link in the description text below,
that’ll take you to Rock Island’s catalogue page on it. You can see their pictures and their description, and you
can set up an account online, and it’s pretty easy to place a bid. So, thanks for watching, good luck if you
decide to try and make this your own.

100 thoughts on “RSC 1917: France’s WW1 Semiauto Rifle

  1. i'm amazed that Ian can keep so many facts and figures in his head….and speak without notes….He is a joy to listen to…..

  2. The French had the Chauchat but struggled to make semi auto rifles? That seems impossible. Surely a semi auto rifle is easier to design than the Chauchat was?

  3. Hi Ian, I am presently writing a book and need a little more information about the RSC 1917. Could you please explain to me where the safety is on the rifle and what distance would very long-range be if the long range is 400 to 800 hundred yards?

  4. Recently I saw a original Lebel 1886 8mm rifle, non-modified (so not a
    M93), all matching, all parts in perfect state, bore is perfect,
    original blueing, Someone any idea about the price range for this
    rifle??

  5. Hey Ian, if you wanted to reload a partially-loaded RSC, what would the proper procedure be? You'd have to get both the round in the chamber as well as the rest of the enbloc out of the gun first, right?

    I'm working to make sure BF1's guns are functionally accurate, and any help you could give would be greatly appreciated by many. 🙂

  6. I know there's only 4 in existence, but if you can, I would love to see a video about the Huot automatic conversion of the Ross rifle. I read a bit about it (It cost about 50$ to convert the ross rifle into a full auto LMG instead of 1000$ for a new lewis gun) and I'm super intrigued by how it actually works. That, and I'm also a french speaking Canadian so It would be cool to see a prototype weapon from my part of the world 😛

  7. Everybody's singing the praise of French weapon design in the comments, and I'm sitting here remembering how shitty the Lebel was at the start of the war… eight rounds held in a reservoir like a shotgun, with an excessive length, awkward design, and absolutely no compatibility for stripper clips, yeah it was slightly older than the SMLE and Gewehr counterparts, and it might have been revolutionary at the time, but by 1914 it was outdated, and at the peak of the war for the French in 1917, it was outright obsolete.

  8. This channel is so amazing. Not only do you showcase modern weapons but you also help educate and preserve history by showing old rifles like this.

  9. why give a lebel a 8+1 capabilities, but the autoloading rifle a 5 maybe a 5+1 magazine.. im sure theres design restriction to blame but its just backwards to me lol

  10. Love you and you videos!!! Not many gun vids I can sit threw, but you and Iraqvet8888 get my undies attention 🙂

  11. It's cool seeing a bolt that looks like it's from a later era automatic rifle being pulled out of a 1917 weapon.

  12. I don't own a gun. I'm moderately ingested in guns. That said, I could talk to this guy all day long about guns! It goes to show that if you have a passion for something you can get others interested. I really appreciate him taking the time to share his expertise.

  13. Luger Rifle master race. Seriously the only reason that thing wasn't adopted was its immense production cost, which is to be fair a pretty good reason. Without a doubt these would have worked flawlessly and where very much ahead of their time. A very refined, streamlined and elegant rifle design.

    Its a shame you cant take a look at one (much less shoot) because to my knowledge there where only 4 or so made and only 1 is still known to exist.

  14. The sight of a French rifles very probably does not measure in yards. It measures in meters. A Frenchman doesn't even know what a yard is.

  15. OK i love BF1 and now i know where Dice got there guns from! I am not a gun person but playing BF1 and mastering all the guns and now seeing them in real life video is awesome. history just hitting me like whoa.

  16. Amazing! This is almost like an AK. Wonder what would have happened to the WW1 if they just had added a 30 cartridge magazine and a semi/full auto possibility

  17. I saw guns in the game battlefield 1
    (Ww1 based game)

    from the battlefield series.

    Yeah seeing that I thought the developers added semi rifles to the game so that most the rifles we're not bolt action. So there were legit semi auto rifles out back then. That's neat.

    Pretty cool finding this out in real life.

  18. You know you like guns when you would buy over a rifle for over $6500 (tbh i would pay up to $15k for this rifle) that you wouldn't even shoot.

  19. Machine Guns and Machine Rifles WW1 (US publication 1917): Benet – Mercie 1909 included

    https://archive.org/stream/notesonuseofmach00armyiala#page/n0/mode/2up

    https://archive.org/stream/automaticriflebr00unit#page/6/mode/2up

    https://archive.org/stream/handbookbenetme00deptgoog#page/n3/mode/2up

  20. Only thing which is common in these French rifles is that stupid looking trigger, as if it was designed by a retarded grunt using a nail.

  21. Why didn't they continue producing them after ww1? Were they too expensive or french army officials thought that bolt action rifles were better option?

  22. Kinda surprised that as far as I know no country tried loading a variant of their standard rifle cartridge with a lighter powder load to make a sort of 'intermediate cartridge' for their semi auto rifles. Less forces, easier to engineer and produce. Possible existing parts could work since cartridge is same size.

    Seems like an easy way to just tweak existing production lines for ammunition while fielding an effective semi auto. Put some red paint on the tips or something.

    Obviously the regular round would probably blow up in your face if used in the semi auto rifle. But with chemical warfare, human wave attacks, and the artillery, what's a little more danger gonna hurt?

  23. There were alot of semi auto rifles but there were none that could be massed produced. Like you said at the beginning the first mil produced. Icant believe the french didnt come up with a much better model (before americans and brits) because they had been experimenting for a while.

  24. It seems like if they moved the charging handle forward they could install the dust cover so it would stay in place while firing.

  25. They created one of if not the worst machine gun ever issued for combat. It's just a pity though that this remarkable rifle isn''t nearly as renown in comparison

  26. It's a little known fact that the rotating bolt and operating rod design of this rifle was copied and used decades later, by Remington. On their M742/M7400 civilian commercial hunting rifle design!

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