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Small Arms of WWI Primer 002: French Berthier Rifles


France had been the first country to
make the jump to smokeless gunpowder but their new Lebel rifle wasn’t really
fit for carbine length. It had been rushed into service and had a number of problems. They needed to arm the cavalry, artillery, and other non front-line troops with
handier weapons. These units still lagged behind with single shot black powder
Gras carbines and musketoons. A solution would be found but would leave
France with two types of shoulder arms. Further troubles with the Lebel would
see the new carbine designed take over more and more roles on the
battlefield, and World War 1 would thrust it right into the front line. (slow, sorrowful, classy, expensive sounding string instrumental) Hi. I’m Othais, and today we’re going to cover several
variations of the Berthier as used in World War 1. Now before we get started I want to
say that’s not generally how we’re going to do things. We want this show to feature one variant
of one gun at a time as long as there is a reasonable distinction between the
models and there are reasonable distinctions between these models. But
you know we’ve got a partnership with the Great War and we’ve gotta play catch up so that we can get on into Germany and things like that, so you guys are going to get a couple at once. I hope that’s ok. They all use the same action and we’ll get into the detail about
that, so I think it’ll work out fine. We also are gonna cut off at the end of World War 1
there’s a lot to say about these guns after World War 1 and we will get to that. Just wait. Now, with all that in mind, this
is the French Berthier. Now when we talk about these guns we first have to talk
about the Lebel, which we just did on the last episode. The thing about the
Lebel is it was rushed and service. We covered that. The number one problem is slow
loading and the number-two problem is really limited capacity if you’re trying to
make a carbine. Trying to get a tube loader down to short enough for cavalry?
No good. Over in Austria and Germany they had
adopted the straight pull 1886 rifle which varied from a one directional clip. That
means five rounds could be inserted the action in the same amount of time that
would normally take to insert one round. This is revolutionary. Now the Germans
copy this design and improve it so that it’s bidirectional you can load either
way. There’s no top or bottom and they include on their 1888 Commission
rifle. So France’s neighbors are caught up on smokeless gunpowder and they have
faster clip loading systems and France still needs a carbine. So in steps a
railroad engineer by the name of monsieur Berthier and I think I know his
first name but there’s two Berthiers and every time I look it up, even in French
sources, I get a different answer. So if somebody’s dead sure, go and start
an argument in the comments. For now this is the first monsieur Berthier, the one who has to do
with this carbine. Later we’ll probably talk about another monsieur Berthier who did
work on semi-automatic prototypes. Anyway monsieur Berthier steps in and he has an
idea for a conversion system for the Lebel rifle. He takes Lebels and he fits them with,
originally, these Austrian style single directional clips. Then as Germany comes
out with its 1888, he makes the same adjustments for two directional. We’re not
sure who came up with what, but regardless, it was one directional. It
becomes two directional. It was originally meant to be available
to convert existing Lebels. That idea gets dropped the gun gets simpler and
simpler. Originally it was gonna have five shot capacity. It gets all the way down to
three while trying to make room for things and getting everything lined up
and working properly. So what ultimately goes to trial, is this three-shot lightweight Berthier carbine and it wins. It’s adopted in 1890 and we will see its not quite this model, but we will see
ultimately something like this. Now for the French that three-shot capacity
really isn’t that big of a deal because previously they had loaded one cartridge
at a time. They’re going from one to three. That’s triple down on their money.
Granted other countries are already looking at five but, you know it’s early
days and everybody’s still experimenting. So we just loaded three as fast as we used to
load one. We’re happy. That’s gonna change, obviously, but we’ll get there in a
moment. Now we’ll see three variants of the 1890 come about. This will be the
Cavalerie, which, that use is obvious. The Cuirassier which, that’s a special French unit
it’s sort of like a heavy cavalry, dreadnought, I don’t know what they call it. These are
guys that wear breastplates and carry rifles at the same time. It’s confusing
and they’re obviously not effective by the time we get to World War 1, but they had to
have a specially-designed stock so that they could fit the gun up against their
dumb armor. Then you have the military police, the Gendarmerie. These guys adopt a gun of their own with a special bayonet. Now in 1892 we’re going to see that same rifle taken
over and renamed Musketoon, which is another French tradition. Umm… has more to do
with tradition than it does with design It just is another version of a short
rifle. We’ll get into that in more detail when we get into the Gras. The 1892 is intended for artillery men and other specialty troops
and it really becomes sort of the most recognized model because it’s
handed out to anybody Now the 1892 does well, and the Lebel
continues to serve until about 1902, when the French are having
trouble with arming the Indochinese peoples in their holdings in Asia. These
people are short statured and can’t handle this unwieldy tube fed awful rifle, so they take the Berthier and just sort of give it a longer barrel. This gun is so successful that they
decide “hey we might as well make these for other troops”, most notably in Africa. They go ahead and make it even longer still, bringing up to same length as a Lebel,
but it’s still lighter and easier to carry and has limited three-shot capacity,
but hey faster loading. And as a bonus, it’s easier to manufacture. So this
becomes the 1907 Senegalese rifle. The 1902 and 1907 serve well in their roles until, well, World War 1 happens and everybody’s caught off guard. The French they haven’t been producing
the Lebel as much or at all for a number of years so they’re rushing to
retool production. In the meantime, though, they still roll out Berthiers from
time to time in batches, so the machines are ready to go. Well, what do they do? They reach back for
that ’07 and make a few modifications. Most importantly, they take the dedicated
specific bayonet for the ’07 and they swap it over to the standard Lebel
Rosalie. Now for the carbine side of things, you’re gonna see mostly this 1892
bayonet, just so you know. Now, the 07/15 does well. It’s just a simplified ’07 with familiar parts from the Lebel. It’s still only three shot. The carbines are retained,
all the 90s, the 92, they all serve. So you’re basically looking at the
Lebel plus these two guns for most of the war. But, there’s a problem the Germans are fielding five shot
rifles and carbines. The Kar 98 specifically is proving to be a bit of a bother. You
see, the Germans have started to understand shock troop usage. These are
guys that have appropriate grenades pistols and reasonable capacity rifles
that break into trench lines and hold the positions. So, if you’re French and you
have a static position and loading three is as good as loading one, it
doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to have a three shot gun. But by the time
you’re told to run across a screaming battlefield, drop in a trench and nail as
many guys as you can, hopefully not getting your head caved in… You don’t want to have to reload once, so you’d take a 30 round magazine if you could. Well it’s time to go ahead and bump that Berthier up. So in 1916 they go back to sort of the original drawings, in a
way, because there are diagrams of five shot Berthiers from way back before it was in trials. Now the solution is a little bit more modern. It’s a nice pressed steel
bottom, and they went ahead and fixed a couple other problems. That Mannlicher
feeding system has an open bottom and lets mud into the action. We’ll get into why in a moment. Well, they went ahead and put a cover, it’s just a little spring loaded thing that snaps open and snaps closed. This helps keep the rifle clean
of muck. They also added a hand guard because if you’re running and shooting,
this thing gets hot and you still need to be able to move it. The five round
magazine system really isn’t all that different from the three round magazine
system. So there’s what we had before, and here’s what we have now. You get two
extra rounds. Operationally, it’s the same thing all over again. Like I said, the
only big difference is that cover at the bottom. At this point in 1916, by design France has caught up. Unfortunately, these
guns don’t roll out right away. They go ahead and switch over to marking the receivers to model 16, but these parts aren’t quite
ready yet and there’s a surplus of the three shots still waiting around to be assembled. So you find, just like our example here, honestly. You find a lot of 1916
marked receivers that still have three shot, no handguard, configuration. These
are sort of transitional models. So, it’s hard to say how many of these really
made to the front line in five shot configuration. Several thousand at least,
though. Maybe up to 80,000? It’s kind of – the numbers are here and there – and they
weren’t really tracked until a couple years after the war, so we’re not 100% certain. We do know, however, that there was a five shot rifle that was also introduced as
part of the 1916 program. But assembly started so late but no more
than 400 were delivered by the end of the war. So yes you will see plenty of
five shot rifles out there because they were converted postwar. In World War 1, though, you’re really only looking at a three-shot Berthier rifle or the Lebel.
Now let’s go ahead and take a look inside the Berthier to see just how it
works. We’ll go ahead and work with the five
shot magazine system, since it is slightly more complicated with the
addition of an extra spring and cover. It loads from an en bloc with all the
cartridges and clip entering and remaining in the gun. As we bolt forward,
we will pick up the first cartridge and press it into the chamber. Turning the
bolt drops the two symmetrical locking lugs into mortices in the receiver,
locking the action. A pull of the trigger draws the sear downward, releasing the cocking piece and freeing
it to spring forward, projecting the firing pin into the cartridge’s primer,
discharging the round. Lifting the bolt unlocks the action. As
we draw it back, the extractor pulls the spent casing into the ejector, flicking
it away. And so the process begins again. This time, notice that the cocking piece is
reset when the bolt is lifted. We’ll spend more time in better detail on these
features specifically in the future, but for now just know that this rifle is
cock on open. The follower is continuously pressing up into the last
cartridge and the clip is holding all the ammo together, but the follower
doesn’t directly contact the clip. This means, when we chamber the last round, the follower is free to rise between the lips of the clip, and it falls to the bottom
of the action. On earlier models this would just drop to the ground. Here, the
cover that protects the magazine from the mud of the trenches has caught it. Feeding the next clip will force it open,
just in case the shooter forgets. To unload the rifle, press the release
inside the trigger guard and depress the clip slightly. This will eject it from the
top of the action. The French did not provide a safety, as
just like with the Lebel, the gun was expected to be carried with an empty
chamber. Now that we know how they work, let’s have Mae show us how they shoot. Up
first is our three-shot carbine. These are much shorter than the Lebel. Berthier
carbines, both three and five shot, have sites ranged from 200 to 1000 meters. With volley positions from 1200 to 2000 meters. Again, we’re loading this from a
three-shot en bloc, which will stay in the gun. Next up, the 07/15 rifle. A lot of length has been added. Sighting is now like the Lebel, with an adjustable ladder from 400 to 800 meters
and volley positions from 900 to 2400 meters. Flip forward for a 250 meter
battle sight. This is still a three rounder. Last up is the model 16 carbine. Now we’re up to five rounds. Otherwise handling’s the same.
Just remember, that clip is not going to drop after you’ve chambered the last round. Try to remember that our focus for this video is just World War 1. These guns are going to serve through World War 2. There’s going to be additional modifications through the thirties
they’re gonna get rechambered almost 100% across the board to a balle N cartridge. We’ll get there. For World War 1, however though, most of them are going to remain three-shot. A few are going to come out as five-shot carbines
and that’s about it. They’re all going to have the clearing
rods and most are actually gonna lack stacking hooks. The thing is in the
collectors market, though, we’re getting there after the fact. So when you buy a
Berthier or encounter one in a museum, chances are it’s gonna show signs of post World War 1 and especially World War 2 modification. We actually got lucky this gun back here was taken into Polish
ownership after World War 1, and so it was never even reaching for a balle N. We had a
little trouble on the range with that, but we managed to get it shot, obviously. They’re excellent rifles. They’re beautiful. They function well on the battlefield,
believe it or not. The three shot magazine is a little ridiculous, but given how many other horrible ridiculous things happen in that war
it’s probably not the most ridiculous thing of them all. But let’s go ahead and get Mae in
here and get her impressions of shooting these things. Alright, Mae, you’ve shot the Lebel and you shot the Berthiers. Lots of Berthiers. We need to keep this tight for YouTube, so let’s go straight into the action. What do you think compared to about the Lebel? Compared to the Lebel – and maybe it’s because I’ve only shot one Lebel, so I might have gotten the bad one in the bunch – but I’ve shot now three Berthiers, and honestly I found the
action a whole lot smoother than the Lebel. That’s true. It’s a simplified bolt. It really could be a little smoother than the Lebel. I think it’s a little smoother
than the several Lebels I’ve handled, but I’ve also had really nicely polished
Lebels that have functioned well too. It may just be that this thing survives age a little bit better. Now what about the magazine? We’re onto en bloc loading instead of single loading a tube. How do you feel about it? It was a lot faster, comparatively. I had to load the Lebel every individual cartridge. Whereas this one, pop in three or five and
you’re good to go. OK good, any problems feeding? Well, yes you had to finagle it in their little bit sometimes but once it was in there it was pretty reliable. OK good, so none of that yanking the
Lebel bolt all the way back…
Nope.
…to try to get the carrier to tip up? Much – you’d say it was an easier bolt to work? I would take either one of these to war any day over the Lebel. OK. Ummm… As for the rifle itself – and I know we’re out of order, but I want to compare as close
to the Lebel and I’m getting as far away as possible. On the rifle itself, no tube magazine, does that really make a difference on weight and holding the gun up? Yes. When we’re out there for six hours for shooting all day. It makes a significant
difference. The weight was almost – it felt like half. I know it wasn’t, but after six
hours of holding the same gun up every day, or all day, it was a huge difference
for me. OK, so men on the march, good call.
Yep. OK. Now, to the carbines. Let’s go with the
three-shot. Anything remarkable about three shot carbine? It’s got the bent handle. Did that feel any easier, or no difference at all? Not really any difference. It’s a bent handle. You can still handle it easily. Now I know you complained about the lack of a hand guard on that thing.
Mhmm.
Were you happy to find it on the five shot? Oh yeah. Significant. It made a huge difference! Are you kidding me? By the end of the day, all the guns were too
hot to touch except for the carbine and we did fire that one at the end of the day.
The five shot carbine?
The five shot, yes. The carbine itself… much lighter. 8 millimeter Lebel is a big round.
Mhmm.
How are we doing for recoil? Recoil, actually, was pretty significant in terms of… I’ve handled a lot of milsurps in my day and even comparing it to the Mosin
Nagant carbine this had more kick to it. Wow, that’s impressive.
OK so heavy recoil, light weight…
Mhmm.
…would you be happy carrying it around on a horse all day? Oh yeah. It would be easy to carry around on a horse all day. That’d be simple.
OK. Moving over to the five shot, any big differences between that and the three-shot action? Well, yeah OK, so the way they have it set up on the five shot is with the little magazine trapdoor underneath it, it supposed to just pop open when you
load in the next clip, right? Well maybe it was just this one, I don’t know but I
had to finagle it out with my hand. It would just barely even you know slide it out. Yeah, the previous clip didn’t stop you from loading the next clip, but when we went to film
putting in the second clip and having the other one pop out… Nine times out of ten when we we’re trying to film it, it just wouldn’t pop out. It was like this kind of slow pathetic goldfish poop, but it still was half way in there. But the gun loaded and I imagine the first shot would have cleared it. We just didn’t want to send it flying. Probably, but it… After that.. That was really the only issue I had with the rifle, honestly. The hand guard was a plus, the extra two rounds would make a huge difference in a battle, I can imagine. Any final thoughts on these guys? No, I feel like I’ve covered everything. I can’t think of anything else to add unless you can. No, but finally, you were frustrated with the
Lebel. I don’t think you’re a Lebel fan. Are you a Berthier fan? Yes! I mean comparatively, are you kidding me!? Like I said, I’d take any one of these to battle with me, compared to the Lebel, any day of the week. Now you have shot Mausers and things like that…
Mhmm. Over all, would you wanna take one of these to a battle with you?
No.
(laughing) OK, I think we can end there then. We’ll wrap up with these guys. You’re going to see some credits. We keep playing with the episodes. Go down to the comments. Let us know how you like it and what you want see different. This show is very new and it’s powered by you guys’s interest. Other than that, thanks and thanks for watching. Thanks guys. (slow, sorrowful, classy, expensive sounding string instrumental) Hey everyone. This is Mae. I’d like to just take a moment to thank
some people who have made this show possible. First there is our crew. These
are members of the community who have stepped up and donated their time and
expertise. Second the South Carolina Military Museum, which has provided us with access to their lovely armory. We can’t recommend this place enough. We can’t
forget Shoot Logic, an excellent training group and well worth the drive. They’ve
kindly lent us the facilities once a week for production. Also, The Great War
collaboration has allowed us to share some basic costs and given us a wider
audience. They’re a terrific channel. Finally, we’d like to thank you. This entire project was the result of
years of support and enthusiasm. Now for some begging. The site, articles, images, anatomies, and more took a lot of work but not always a lot of
money. Sadly video is brutal, and we’re currently paying for out of our own pockets. If you like the show and would like to see it continue and grow, please consider visiting us at Patreon, or stop by the C&RSenal print shop. Thanks for
watching.

100 thoughts on “Small Arms of WWI Primer 002: French Berthier Rifles

  1. I have a model 1916 Berthier carbine with the top hand guard but is still only 3 shot. Is this also part of that transitional period?

  2. The Rosalie bayonet is a legend born afterwar. During the conflict there was no french soldier to name his bayonet Rosalie..

  3. I learned alot from this video, despite my 40 years of collecting rifles. Also, I liked the French look of Othais and Mae. Mae's grey shirt and brown hair made her look to some degree, a soldier of Le Republic popping "Le Bosche".

  4. I have a 1916 (m92) "transitional" carbine had it for almost a year and have yet to fire it
    Since an enbloc and a box of 8mm lebel is gunna run $40 damn near

  5. "you guyses"? is a hideous contraction and is prob missing an apostrophe or 4. What's wrong with just 'your'? Speaking direct to camera, it's clear you're not referring to Mae.

  6. very interesting and complex! did they add 5 shots to the longer barrel version? or they just relied on the lebel rifles

  7. please correct me if I'm wrong. @7:46 you said kar98. if we are talking ww1 wouldn't that be wrong? I believe that wasn't until 1935 for the k98

  8. I saw your segment on the Great War channel about French WW1 rifles. Question, a bit off topic, in the 1970s I worked with a Basque man whose father fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He showed me an old photo of his father whose rifle was almost as tall. Now I don't know whether the father was regular or militia but I understand he was not very tall. I'm wondering if the Basques got Lebel or 07-15 rifles from the French, officially or unofficially. Any comments from C&Rsenal?

  9. Thanks for the very good work !i'm watching it from France and it's sometimes hard to understand the totality of your Words.But i'm progressing vidéos after vidéos!
    Thanks for keeping those légendary weapons live.

    Ps:it's gendarmErie not gendarmarie. 😉

  10. How comes they all knew about semi auto pistols but didn`t think of a semi auto, or full auto, carbine for the trenches?

  11. This Channel, The Great War channel and the game Verdun are my ultimate source for WW1. love it… thanks to all of you

  12. i know that the mondragon rifle was used by the german empire, but how much time? i havent seen it beign shot in any video. My question is if theres any way to get it and give us a video about it, is it possible?

  13. Now that I think of it, why isn't there a comparison of the length of the rifle vs the height of Mae anymore?

  14. Seriously tho, never mind the Enbloc but who the hell thought 3 rounds in a repeating rifle was a good idea

  15. Nice! I just found this gem of a video. I had the pleasure of owning one of these beautiful little carbines…I always felt like they were small works of art. Actually, all of these wonderful old milsurp rifles are. It was a joy to shoot and had a fire-ball to rival the mighty Mosin Nagant M44. This little carbine let you know when your shooting technique was a bit off.

  16. 16:55 "We need to keep this tight for Youtube" 🙂

    Two years later : movie-length episode for the Long Lees, and an even longer one for the SMLE…

  17. over 1000 likes SEVEN dislikes (history channel paid trolls) your hitting it Hard O! On a sidenote when i worked at subway in CT a group of landscapers came in everyday, there companies name had an H with a square. My coworker said hey your shirt looks like the history channel, the guy just grunted and said he didnt like the history channel. He said a number of years ago the history channel dragged this small family buisness into court for copyright infringement. He said hey guys our buisness was founded over 200 years ago and weve always had this trademark… needless to say the history channel didnt do their history homrwork on this. Case was dropped and they had to pay these guys to continue to use their trademark with their blessing. Just 1 more reason to hate the history channel besides it being about pawn shops and alien conspiracies.

  18. very enjoyable episode, evening being an early one. I like hearing the feedback from May about the range firing an complications with each rifle or carbine. Anyone in the market for one of these weapons would find great value in these videos.

  19. I really think the French officer corps, politicians and arms manufacturers really hated their soldiers. Anyone would take the Berthier over the Lebel but they would take the Mauser or even the Enfield over the Berthier.

  20. If I was an average French soldier I would take the Berthier even the three shot over the Lebel any day of the week!

  21. Returned to refresh on the details of the models
    Because i want what in the collectors market is known as an 07/16….. post war five shot rifle…..
    I bought a couple of en blocs from liberty tree collectors ….$50 for 2
    ……….. i love LTC if you can thunk it they got it …… but it aint cheap.
    My carbine is missing the front band ……. its $75 for a barrel band…..
    i think my carbine ended up in indochina at one point. Because it has the locomotive lacquer finish instead of typical accelerated rust bluing…..i think the gewehr 88 had a better method of enclosing the action….. its more reliable putting the clip under spring pressure + i love the ping ……

  22. i found one of this erlier versions from 1890 on a ww2 battlefield near vienna . probably waffen ss used. this is eastern front.

  23. This definitely qualifies for the trope of early episode weirdness. Shorter episodes, everything is so serious, and it's pre "War Were Declared *BOOM BOOM*"

  24. The intro music is honestly one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have listened so far. The Violin swirls in so a way it moves into your heart and takes you in time to a place of magic and whimsy. The strings are so perfect as the harmonies come together as one as a yin yang piece.

  25. Bullshit. I own both rifles Mosin kicks more slightly. Still both are great but I prefer Enfield smile mark 4.

  26. Terrific video loaded with all the info I needed, from a commentator
    who REALLY knows his stuff. I am now a subscriber, thank you.

  27. Looking back on these old episodes makes me realize how far you've come in production quality, research, and presentation. Othais in these old episodes is a lot quieter and a little awkward on screen. Whereas current Othais is the precise opposite, and both of you inject a fair bit of humor into the show now too, as opposed to the more sterile and clinical delivery present here.

    TL;DR, you guys have improved a lot! Keep it up, you're awesome!

  28. Why am I just now coming across this channel?!? Fantastic, fantastic stuff guys!! I love hearing about the history behind these weapons! Looking forward to binging on everything I've been missing out on. lol

  29. I own a 5 round carbine and by God in Heaven, I want a 3 round version as well. These are beautiful guns and fantastic shooters.

  30. The Berthiers, while definitely not as good as the other service rifles, was better than Lebel M93. The Lebel was solidly built and accurate but oh, the loading.

  31. What is a non rechambered Berthier 3 shot carbines, roughly worth I have two of them in amazing shape. I do believe they are the military police version unsure tho cant find details on marking to prove this.

  32. In hindsight, the moment at 16:56 where Othias says "We need to keep this tight for YouTube so let's go straight into it" is pretty funny.

  33. Hi, I just inherited my great Uncle’s 3 shot MLE 1907 M15 Etienne ,it was his personal weapon in the war. The weapon is in good condition. Would this be a 8mm caliber gun? I do not have a clip or ammo and would like to take it to the range!
    Thanks

  34. So around 1932, the French converted all their 8x50mm Lebel caliber rifles (even the Gras 74-14 single shot conversions) to the high-pressure version of the 8x50mm cartridge the Balle N? Instead of converting them all to use the new 7.5x54mm MAS cartridge they had begun to standardize in 1929?

    Yet another fine example of the French armory heads putting their feet upon the wrong path!

  35. I just acquired a 3 shot Berthier carbine , your video helped. Mine had a side sling attachment on the stock

  36. Great educational video on a French pre-WW 1 rifle. Saw these rifles on a lot of the old black/white Foreign Legion Movies. Thanks for the great historical background and demonstration of this rifle!

  37. It is so sad, as early as 1891 or 92 the French could have replaced the Lebel in production with a five round, charger loading, rifle which was both lighter to carry, and cheaper to produce. What a difference a million or three, of these rifles would have made in the war.

  38. I was at a gun auction about 3 weeks ago, and they had quite a few 3 round Berthier en blocs with ammo. Sadly, no gat accompanied them.

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