Berthier Carabine, Mousqueton et Fusil Histoire
1887 - The Comité de L'Artillerie headed by Général Gallifet decided to experiment in making a carbine version of the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 "Lebel" with the following requirements: It had to use the same cartridge already in service, Cartouche à Balle Ordinaire Modèle 1886, the magazine capacity had to equal or better 5 rounds and the final weight of the weapon shall not be over 3,6 kg (7.93 pounds). Under the direction of the L'Ecole Normale de Tir (E.N.T.) a prototype carbine which was to be called the Carabine d'Essai Modèle 1887 was built. This carbine was basically was a shortened rifle with a 6 round capacity with a shortened butt stock, forearm and barrel. It also had a slightly modified rear sight, which was only graduated to 1800 meters, a small straight ball-tipped stacking hook was added to the upper barrel band, a rotating swivel mounted on the underside of the stock and a concentric ring mounted on the left side of the lower barrel band. The experiment did not meet expectations of the Comité de L'Artillerie due to a number of reasons with the main ones being, it was unable to meet the weight factor as well as the magazine tube system did not work properly unless it under 4 rounds. The project was finally dropped on February 28th of 1890 but 45 years later it was revived again with successful results resulting in the Mousqueton de Artillerie et Cavalerie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 Raccourci 1935. Only two of these prototypes are known to exist, one being located at the Musée de la Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Saint Etienne in France and the other in a unnamed collection in the USA.
Émile Berthier, a mechanical engineer for the Algerian Railway System, Bureau des Chemines de Fer Algériens, with one of the five subsidiary companies, La Compagnie Bône-Guelma , had two great passions in life: dirigible balloons and firearms, proposed to modify the existing Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 "Lebel" with its massive solid receiver, two piece stock and tubular magazine system into a system based on the en-bloc packet/charger system patented by the Austro-Hungarian weapon designer Ferdinand Mannlicher to the Comité de L'Artillerie and Section Technique de L'Armement (S.T.A.) on June 10th. He was ignored, discouraged and rejected by the various commissions/committees from designing a new firearm system but in the end finally won his case to build a weapon for trials the next year.
1888 - Under the direction of Monsieur Berthier, L'Atelier de Puteaux (APX) helped build a number of prototype weapons called the Lee-Mannlicher-Berthier or what now is called Berthier Boitier No.1 et No.1bis, which were to be tested at Mont Valérien in December of that year. A number of small problems were found with the en-bloc packet/chargers used during this testing, but in the end the weapon proved itself successful enough against the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 "Lebel", firing 26 rounds in 1 minute 10 seconds compared to the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 "Lebel" 21 rounds in 1 minute 34 seconds, which had impressed the various commissions/committees to proceed the next year with more testing. They recommended to him to develop two different carbine models, one for the cavalerie (cavalry) and another for the artillerie (artillery).
1889 - Monsieur Berthier went on to develop the two different Berthier Boitier prototypes recommended by the commissions/committees, the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Essai No.2 et No.2bis and Carabine d'Cavalarie Essai No.3 et No.3bis. Both of these were 1005mm (39.5 inch) in overall length, had bent bolt handles and similar modified rear sights. No.2 featured a bolt handle which was positioned on the rear portion of the bolt and the upper barrel band was modified to use the standard bayonet in service the Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886. No.2bis was modified to have the locking lugs on the bolt head to be positioned “vertical”, 90 degrees, instead of the traditional manner of being “horizontal” which would help to eliminate the jams when chambering the cartridge from the en-bloc packet/charger. No.3 had its bolt handle positioned near the front of the bolt, had a protruding metal magazine, and had no provisions to mount a bayonet. No.3bis also had the same type arrangement for the locking lugs as No.2bis. Testing continued throughout the rest of the year at Mont Valérien.
1890 - On the 19th of January the situation changed dramatically as France’s long time arc-enemy, Germany, adopted the Karabiner Modell 1888 with its fast loading en-bloc packet/charger system for its mounted troops and the French military quickly realized that they needed to get a new smokeless powder carbine for use by their various mounted units to counter this new German threat. On February 28th it was decided by the E.N.T. to drop the Carabine d'Essai Modèle 1887 and go with the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Essai No.2bis carbine for adoption. It was recommended to Monsieur Berthier to go from a 4 round en-bloc packet/charger to a 3 round en-bloc packet/charger and completely abandon the two piece stock for a simple one-piece type that had been a tradition for French regulation carbines. After a series of modifications during the first few weeks of March the weapon was transformed into what was to become the Carabine de Cavalerie Modèle 1890, which was officially adopted for service on March 14, 1890. This weapon was latter called the Carabine de Cavalerie Modèle 1890 1er Type by the French military to distinguish between the two different types of the same model (see 1894 for details of the 2ème Type). This weapon, as mentioned, utilized a one piece stock which was stocked to within 1 3/4" of the muzzle, had an overall length of 0,945m (37.2 inch) with a 45,5cm (17.8 inch) barrel, weighing 3,00kg (6.61 pounds). It has two-barrel bands, carries a clearing rod in a channel down the left side of the stock and lacks a top hand guard. The sling configuration is unique in that a rotating swivel mounted on the underside of the stock works in combination with a concentric ring mounted on the left side of the lower barrel band allowing for it to easily be slung over the back of the cavalryman. The carbine is loaded using the new 3-shot en-bloc packet/charger as this was based on a desire to avoid having a magazine extend below the bottom line of the stock creating any surfaces that might catch on the various equipment carried by mounted troops and not to infringe on Ferdinand Mannlicher patents. The weapon was not designed to accept a bayonet, since all of the mounted units of the French Army were issued lances, sabers or swords as their primary arms. Production numbers are sketchy but it is estimated that only 200,000 of these weapons were made from November of 1890 to 1904 at both Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Saint Etienne (MAS) and Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC).
There were two other weapons adopted during this year, the Carabine de Cuirassier Modèle 1890 and Carabine de Gendarmerie Modèle 1890.
The Carabine de Cuirassier Modèle 1890 was identical to the cavalry carbine but can be easily distinguished by the lack of a comb on the butt stock to allow for proper sight alignment when the trooper shouldered his carbine wearing the Casque Modèle 1870 Cuirassier. The cheek-pieces of this helmet consisted of a series of scales running the length of the leather chinstrap and these overlapping scales would have prevented the soldier from placing his cheek directly against the raised comb of a normal carbine. Another unique feature was a checkered leather butt plate, as the carbine was intended to be shouldered while wearing a steel breast plate called a cuirass, the use of leather for the butt plate was more suitable than a standard steel butt plate, which would have slipped off the tapered breastplate during recoil and possibly damaging the plate. This leather butt plate was held by three horizontal brass screws. These butt plates were made by Établissement Demange et fils and Bld Voltaire à Paris. This weapon weighed 2,980 kg (6.56 pounds), was 0,952m (37.4 inch) in overall length with a 45,3cm (17.8 inch) barrel. Once again production numbers are sketchy but it is estimated that only 20,000 of these weapons were made in 1891 at only Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC). Serial Numbers: A 1 - A 20,000 (1891 dates)
Known serial numbers: A 60XX : barrel proof in December 1890, stock cartouche of June 1891; A 8981 : barrel proof unknown, no visible stock cartouche ... (1890 stamped); A 116XX : barrel proof in July 1891, no visible stock cartouche; A 16XXX : barrel 1891; A 175XX : barrel proof in October 1891, no visible stock cartouche; A 178XX : barrel proof in October 1891, no visible stock cartouche; A 190XX : barrel proof unknown, stock cartouche of November 1891; A 19089 : barrel proof in October 1891, stock cartouche of November 1891 ... (1890M stamped); A 19835 : barrel proof in November 1891, stock cartouche of November 1891 ... (1890M stamped)
The Carabine de Gendarmerie Modèle 1890 was developed for the Gendarmerie which were the military police units within the French Army and their carbine is identical to the cavalry carbine except for the location and construction of the upper barrel band. It is set back 4 1/2" from the muzzle and was designed to accept the Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1890. Once again production numbers are sketchy but it is estimated that only 50,000 of these weapons were made from 1891 or 1892 to 1893 at both Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Saint Etienne (MAS) and Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC). Serial Numbers: MAC A 1 - A 18831 (1892 dates); A 18832 - A 20000 (1893 dates) … MAS F 1 - F 30839
1892 - As French military doctrine required the artillery to work in close concert with the cavalry and infantry, the artillery crews needed a weapon to protect themselves at close quarters and as these were considered secondary weapons, they needed a light, handy and easily slung weapon while manning the guns, what was developed was a weapon exactly identical in pattern to the Carabine de Gendarmerie Modèle 1890 called the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892. It was adopted for service and production started on the 30th of August. These were also were issued to Engineers, machine-gun crews, certain other specialized troops such as drivers, and the French Navy, particularly the Troupes de Marine (Marines) and Fusiliers-Marins (Naval Light Infantry). It is estimated that approximately 300,000 of this particular weapon was made at MAS from 1892 to March of 1915 and 375,000 at MAC from 1892 to April of 1917.
The biggest difference was the bayonet it took, in this case a sword type bayonet, called the Sabre-Baïonnette Modèle 1892
1894 - It was found that the sling due to its rotating type swivel located at the bottom of the stock and concentric ring mounted lower barrel band was not suited for carrying while mounted as it tore into the uniform and the shoulders of the trooper, therefore it was decided by a Ministerial Decree (Décret Ministériel) put out by the Ministry of War (Ministre de La Guerre) on the 30th of May 1894 to modify the weapon to carry it in a better position while on the back of the cavalry trooper. The rotating sling swivel mounted on the underside of the stock was removed, filled in and replaced with a 6 cm (2.36 inch) steel sling bar placed over an inletted notch in the left side of the stock. The concentric ring mounted lower barrel band was replaced with a straight type retention bar type which resulted in the Carabine de Cavalerie Modèle 1890 2ème Type being adopted for service on March 25 1895. Very few of the Carabine de Cavalerie Modèle 1890 1er Type exist as most got modified to this new system.
1901 - In January of 1898 a new service cartridge was adopted for service, developed by Artillery Major Désaleux, called Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D, commonly called Balle D, which featured a solid lathe turned brass, spitzer, boat-tailed bullet, which was generalized for service in 1901. As this cartridge started to replace the older Cartouche à Balle Ordinaire Modèle 1886 M , the rear sights of the Berthiers already in service had to be modified for the new rounds trajectory. The quickest and simplest method was to grind down the right ladder steps on the rear sight to compensate for this new trajectory instead of having to replace them with a completely new rear sight. The rear sight might sometimes be marked on the base with a "D" and/or the receivers sometimes also be might be marked with "M.D." (Modification Désaleux) after the weapons nomenclature indicating that they undergone this new change.
1902 - On December 24, 1902 the half cock notch on the cocking piece which had been intended to be used as a rudimentary safety was no longer made as it was determined that this feature was now useless under the pretext that it did not allowed the bolt to be maneuvered quickly and with its removal it allowed the rifle to be cycled at a faster rate.
A Ministerial Decree (Décret Ministériel) put out by the Minisrty of War (Ministre de La Guerre) dated the 10th of January 1902 called for a modification of a unique curved stacking hook to be added to the upper barrel band, called the Embouchoir Modèle 1902, to allow these firearms to be stacked for a long period in the field by the 'Batteries Alpines' de Régiments de Artillerie de Montagne ('Alpine Batteries' of Regiments of Mountain Artillery). These firearms were just regular production musketoons but just featured the above modification on them as they were not specially built for this modification. It is estimated that about only 1,200 to 1,500 of these musketoons had these unique barrel bands added to them. This designation is not an official French model designation but used by French Collectors to differentiate it from the regular musketoon model.
When the various Vietnamese/Cambodian troops called Tirailleurs Indochinois (Annamites, Tonkinois, Cambodgiens ) in Indochina were issued the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892 and it was found that it had too much recoil for them, the Gouverneur de l'Indochine asked the Ministre de La Guerre in 1901, after a visit to Paris, to develop a special rifle for them. The Comité de L'Artillerie looked into the problem and determined that as the Berthier was already in production as a carbine, it would be a rather simple task to produce a scaled-down rifle that would be perfect for the smaller stature colonial troops in Indochina.
The weapon produced for them was the Fusil de Tirailleur Indochinois Modèle 1902 which was adopted for service on May 22,1902, was 1,125m (44 1/16") in overall length with a 0,635m (25.0 inch) barrel, weighing 3,600 kg (7.93 pounds). The upper barrel band had a unique curved stacking hook added, a feature not found on any Berthier up until then, which was used for interlocking a small groups of rifles in an upright position like the frame of a teepee when arms were to be stacked for a period in the field.
All previous made Berthiers were stacked by interlocking the clearing rod. Like the rest of the Berthiers in service it lacked a top hand guard, had a long brass-tipped clearing rod mounted down the left side of the forearm and used 3-shot en-bloc packet/chargers. The most important feature that this rifle was to have was the addition of a recoil lug to the rear of the receiver to help prevent breakages and cracks in the stock near the wrist. This problem was found to be chronic, over 60%, in all the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892 that were in service in Indochina due to the extreme high humidity conditions encountered there. This problem was later addressed in 1909 for all earlier produced weapons already in service. The bayonet used with this rifle was the Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1902 which was identical in design to the Gendarmerie bayonet and are in fact interchangeable.
All of these rifles were manufactured solely by Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) for the basic price of 51,58F (51 Francs/58 centimes) and it is believed that possibly only 32,500 were made (see below for numbers). These were delivered to Indochina in zinc-lined cases of 20 rifles in the following numbers:
1902: Décret Ministériel N° 15649 dated 05/22/1902: 10,000 weapons ordered (A1 - A10000), sold to Indochina for a price of 56 francs, the contract was finished in 1903, it was sent and delivered to Tonkin.
1904: Décret Ministériel N° 6059/2/3 dated 02/21/1904: 4,500 weapons ordered (A10001 - A14500), sold to Indochina for a price of 63 francs, the contract was finished in December 1904, it was sent and delivered to Tonkin. 2,500 went to La Direction d'Artillerie de Saigon and 2,000 to La Direction d'Artillerie de Hanoi.
1906: Décret Ministériel N° 13629/2/3 dated 04/11/1906: 10,000 weapons ordered, 6,000 planed for in 1906 and 4,000 planed for in 1907. These were sold to Établissement Schneider et Cie at the price of 72,15 francs/centimes each for sales to Persia (Iran). These weapons are numbered from 1 to 10,000 and are believed to not have the letter prefixes before the serial number. This order was fufilled by August 1907, the weapons were then transferred to Établissement Schneider et Cie in March 1908 for delivery. Due to some administrative problems with the Russian Custom Officials, as these were going by via rail through their territory, they finally arrived in Persia in April of 1908.
1906: Décret Ministerial N° unknown dated 7/16/1906: 3,000 weapons ordered (A14501 - A17500) and 1907: Décret Ministériel N° 26026/2/3 dated 05/13/1907: 200 weapons ordered (A17501 - A17700), sent to Indochina for a price of 75,67 francs/centimes, both of these were sent and delivered to Tonkin in December of 1907.
NOTE: weapons A154XX which has a barrel date of 7/1907 and A153XX a barrel date of 8/1907 and as these weapons were the first to receive the up-graded rear sights for Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D this could explain the delay of the 1906 dated Décret Ministerial to 1907.
These should have been theoretically marked with the ‘M.D.’ (Modification Désaleux) after the weapons nomenclature indicating that they undergone this new change but were not marked with it.
1907: Décret Ministériel N° 43508/2/3 dated 12/05/1907: 1,000 ordered (A17701 - A18700) and sent for forces in Annam.
1910: Décret Ministériel N° 8655/2/3 dated 02/23/1910: 1,300 ordered (A18701 - A20000) and sent to the forces in Annam.
1911: Décret Ministériel N° 7535/2/3 dated 02/14/1911: 2,500 ordered (A20001 - A22500) and sent for the forces in Annam.
NOTE: weapons A188XX which has a barrel date of 1908 with a 1910 reception date of 1910 and A208XX a barrel date of 1911 is marked with ‘M.D.’ after the weapons nomenclature.
1914: An order was placed for 300 weapons but none were made due to the outbreak of The Great War in August of that year.
1908 - With the successful adoption of the Fusil de Tirailleur Indochinois Modèle 1902 for its troops in Indochina, the French military decided to replace the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 "Lebel" that were in service with the French West, Central and East African colonies, particularly Senegal, all of whom were tall in stature, with a full-scale rifle. In 1904 l’Inspection Permanente des Fabrications d’Artillerie along with Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault got together with the S.T.A to develop this new rifle.
What they came up with was the Fusil de Tirailleur Sénégalais Modèle 1907 as it was named in Décret Ministerial 34117/2/3 dated August 9, 1907 but in 1908 it was then decided to widen the issuance of the weapon to other colonial troops, except those in Indochina, and Décret Ministerial 22859/2/3 of June 6, 1908 re-named the rifle to Fusil Colonial Modèle 1907 which was adopted for service on June 19,1908. With the introduction of this rifle the Berthier finally came of age as a full-length infantry rifle. This rifle had an overall length of 1,305m (51 3/16") with a 0,800m (31 1/2") barrel and weighing 3,800kg (8.37 pounds). Again like all previous Berthiers it lacked a top hand guard, used the 3-shot en-bloc packet/charger, had the curved stacking hook on the upper barrel band but one feature that was completely eliminated was the brass-tipped clearing rod. The barrel of this weapon was of the same exact barrel as used on the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 "Lebel" which featured the same front and rear sights and muzzle diameter. As this weapon did not use the same upper barrel band as found on the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 "Lebel" but followed the lines of the previous Berthier bayonet attachment, a new bayonet had to be developed to be used for this weapon which was to be called the Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1907.
Once again all there rifles were built solely by Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC). This model was plagued with a number of faults and breakage of parts due to the various weather conditions this rifle encountered such as high humidity and desert conditions mixed together, which caused a number of high ranking officers and officials to cease issuing them until the problem could be resolved, which never happened though. This problem was finally solved sometime in 1914/1915 utilizing better metallurgy and heat treatment procedures.
It is believed that only less than 25,000 of these weapons were made (see below for numbers). The only production numbers know are as follows:
1907: From May 5, 1907 which terminated in 1908: 12,500 weapons made (A1 - A12500), 10,000 rifles were dispatched to Afrique Occidentale Française (AOF) and 2,500 to the Congo which was part of Afrique Équatoriale Française (AEF).
1908: 10 weapons made (A12501 - A12510), these were held in storage for eventual distribution to wherever needed.
1909: 818 weapons made (A12511 - A13328), 500 went to the Congo, 263 to the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), 15 held in storage for eventual distribution to wherever needed, 40 for other unknown destinations.
1910: 2,416 weapons made (A13329 - A15744), unknown where these were sent to.
NOTE: These weapons were the first to receive the up-graded rear sights for Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D and should have been theoretically marked with the ‘M.D.’ (Modification Désaleux) after the weapons nomenclature indicating that they undergone this new change but were not marked with it.
1911: 1,000 weapons made (A15745 - A16744), these were held in reserve.
1912: 1,000 weapons made (A16745 - A17744), the order was terminated in 1913. 240 delivered to Dahomey, 200 to Guinée, and 158 to the AEF.
1913: 6,103 weapons made (A17745 - A23847), unknown where these were sent to.
NOTE: These are marked with ‘M.D.’ after the weapons nomenclature.
1914: An order was placed for 2,400 weapons but due to the outbreak of The Great War in August only 722 were completed (A 23848 - A 24569). The rest of the 1,678 weapons were made after the war had started but were converted to use an upper barrel band that had a semi-circular base and adding a one piece bayonet guide under the barrel allowed the standard Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886to be utilized, this modification was to become the basis for the latter produced Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915.
NOTE: Some of these weapons utilized the standard serial number range found after A24569 but it is not known to what number they went to as many of the remaining ones started with a new serial number range of it own with adoption of the produced Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 on February 26, 1915. There is also possibility that the 722 weapons were converted to the 1915 pattern in January of 1916, the records are very sketchy on these details though.
1909 - As previously stated, per a circular put out by the Ministre de La Guerre ,the Carabine de Cavalerie Modèle 1890 1ème type were to be modified with the inletted notch, sling bar, a new lower barrel band and rotating swivel mounted on the underside of the stock, removed and filled in. It was also at this time that a recoil lug was added to the rear of the receiver of all new made carbines to help prevent the wrist breakages in the stock, which was dovetailed to fit this modification.
1910 - On May 22 the Ministre de la Guerre wanted to build and test a carbine for the various Dragoon Regiments (Régiments de Dragons) and under the guidance of the S.T.A. and Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC), 100 carbines were converted for experimentation, which were to be called the Carabine de Dragons Modèle 1890. These carbines had two very unique features never seen before on any Berthiers up to this date, a 29,5cm (11.6 inch) reversible triangular bayonet with a hooked quillion and full length hand guard running the top of the barrel from the front of the receiver to the upper barrel band. The bayonet system was unique in that it was the first French design of having a bayonet meant to stay with the carbine at all times. The bayonet was to be slipped over the barrel right up to the upper barrel band and was held in place by the front sight base. When the bayonet was not to be used, it was reversed, re-slipped back on the barrel and went inside a steel tube in the front of the stock. It was latched and unlatched by means of a trigger type catch mounted underneath the special bayonet housing, part of the upper barrel band. As with all Berthier carbines previously adopted, a brass-tipped clearing rod was mounted down the left side of the forearm. In December after extensively converting all of these carbines, MAC submitted then to l’Atelier Central for trials in January of 1911. After a series of delays due to circumstances beyond MAC’s control they were finally issued to the 16ème Régiment de Dragons stationed at Riems in November of 1911 for service testing at both Camp de Châlons and Camp de Versailles. After these initial tests it was found that these carbines needed some additional modifications and were returned back to MAC. On July 26, 1912 they were returned back for more extensive field testing. In January of 1914, MAC built approximately 400 more of these weapons for service testing but as fate would have it the project was finally terminated in August of 1914 due to start of The Great War. This system was to be re-introduced in the 1928-1934 trials for what would become the Fusil Modèle 1936. Most of these weapons were either scrapped or re-built into other configurations during the war and only 2 are now known to exist with one located at the Musée de la Cavalerie and the other at the Musée de l'Armée.
1914-1918 - La Grande Guerre - During The Great War, the French military did what they had to do to make complete weapons especially after the Battle of Verdun known as the "meat grinder" during the first half of 1916, which chewed up men, animals and material at an unprecedented pace. The ongoing struggle waged by French Ordnance to arm the troops at the front, along with each year's new draft of young men, resulted in large-scale small arms salvage operations, where teams of scroungers picked up all of these weapons, all along the various fronts and were returned to the nearest facility for re-build and re-issue. The French arsenals put together rifles and carbines with whatever parts were on hand, be it carbine or rifle, from these battlefield-recovered weapons resulting in, rifles found with carbine bolts, carbines with rifle bolts and more, especially when it comes to stocks and stock furniture, you name it!. They did not stand on ceremony, tossing all of the pre-war fussiness out the window and re-built them as fast as possible into any functional model that they could. The easiest way to determine the number of potential wartime variations is to take a stack of Berthier components from the various models and see how many different ways you could possibly put them together, you will be surprised at what you could make!.
All this frequent re-building using parts from different models resulted in one of the more interesting aspects of collecting WWI-issue Berthier rifles and carbines, “What do I really have ?”, just remember this, that what ever configuration the weapon is at the present state is now is the nomenclature of this particular weapon.
So the next time you stumble across a Berthier at a gun shop, in the rack at a gun show, at the range, or on the internet, don't be surprised if it has one or more features from several different models.
1915 - As the war went into its second year with the Western Front having one solid line of massive trenches from the coast in Belgium to the Alps Mountain Range on the Swiss border and the cavalry trooper was no longer required to be on horseback but instead were manning the trenches as Infantrymen, the various cavalry carbines began to be converted to the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892 configuration. This conversion consisted of shortening the forend of the stock and fitting them with a bayonet lug and in the case of the Carabine de Cuirassiers Modèle 1890, the stocks were replaced with the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892 pattern combed stocks but still retaining the leather butt plates.
As France had suffered a large amounts of staggering defeats, with massive losses of men and material at the outbreak of the war during the crushing defeat of "Plan 17" and the "Battle of the Frontiers", which brought the Germans within striking distance of Paris, the French victory at the "1st Battle of the Marne", which staved off a potential German victory, nearly brought the country to its knees. French forces were desperately short of weapons to equip the replacements for the tens of thousands of casualties suffered before the end of 1914, one answer, as determined by the Ministre de La Guerre in November of 1914, was to increase production of the Berthier system and tasked Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) to find a solution. The easiest solution MAC found was to slightly alter the Fusil de Tirailleur Sénégalais Modèle 1907, as it could be pushed into mass production with an absolute minimal number of changes into a new model full-length rifle (see 1907 above). This new model was to be called the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915, which was adopted for service on February 26,1915. This weapon was almost identical with the following exceptions: The upper barrel band was redesigned with a semi-circular base, with a straight ball-tipped stacking hook, and the front sight was changed from a blade type to a square block with a small shallow V groove in it to allow for pin-pointing a target, the rear sight was modified to conform to this new pattern front sight. The very first production, 80,000, did have a bent bolt handle but in November it was determined that this should be changed to a beefed-up straight type bolt handle with a rounded bolt-knob for easier opening of the bolt in combat and all production after the 15th of December followed this recommendation. The production number for these rifles that are known are as follows: March: 200, May: 1,470, August: 46,000, October: 51,000, December: 54,000, the maximum number was obtained in July of 1916 with 101,511 and the final production numbers reached by the end of the war was a staggering 2,387,541. As the two National Armories producing Berthiers, Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault et Saint Étienne, could not keep pace with production demands set by the Ministre de La Guerre therefore it became necessary to contract with the various private manufacturing firms in France and elsewhere to help produce parts or whole complete weapons (See list below).
1916 - As the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 production was well underway, two French designers, Sous-Lieutenant Vibert and Contrôleur Généraux Principaux Chossé of Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC), started to work in March to up-date the Berthier to match the 5-round capacity of the German Infanterie Gewehr 1898, as it had been felt by the French soldier (poilu) that the 3-shot magazine was a handicap compared to the German Mauser which in a time of war could be detrimental to morale. After a series of tests, Sous-Lieutenant Vibert design was adopted on November 28 by Marshall of France, Commandant of the Armies, Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre culminating in the both the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle Modifié 1916 and Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle Modifié 1916 and were to be called by the simple designation “M.16”.
The rifle version was exactly identical to the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 already in production except that it had an addition of an extended 5-shot magazine and a top hand guard running from the front of the receiver to 3 inches beyond the lower barrel band. A new larger diameter barrel band was made to fit over the hand guard to keep it in place. Due to the extreme taper of the Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D (am), the extended magazine is substantially thicker and deeper in the back and slopes forward toward the stock. As originally issued, the extended magazine retained the same rectangular opening in the floor plate to allow the expulsion of the empty en-bloc packet/charger upon reloading but in the mud. dirt and filth of the trenches, all of these designs proved susceptible to collecting foreign debris through the charger ejection port causing enumerable jams as the dirt and crud collected on the cartridges which was then carried into the action. The French lessened this problem somewhat by adding a spring-retained cover over the ejection port so that the soldier could either flip it open manually or just force a fresh en-bloc packet/charger into the magazine forcing the cover open to allow the charger to fall free from the magazine system. The cover could the either be closed by the soldier or simply left open if firing was continual. With this modification the follower assembly was lengthened to fit the extended magazine. With the new extra features added, the rifle weighed a hefty 4,195kg (9.25 pounds).
The Mousquetons were at first produced exactly like the Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle 1892, no hand guards, rotating swivel mounted on the underside of the stock except for the addition of the extended 5-shot magazine which we will call the Premier (1er) Type (First (1st) Type). These were made from the period of October of 1917 to December of 1917.
Starting in December of 1917 it was decided to change this particular model to include a top hand guard with a rear barrel band that fit over the hand guard to keep it in place and replace the rotating swivel mounted on the underside of the stock with the inletted notch and sling bar which we will call the Deuxième (2ème) Type. With the extra features the carbine version weighed a hefty 3,100 kg (6.84 pounds).
NOTE: These designations are not official designations, just a collectors designation to differentiate between the two different types of Mousqueton d'Artillerie Modèle Modifié 1916’s.
These new rifles and carbines did not start to be distributed until very late 1917 and very few of these replaced the Berthiers already in service during The Great War, it was not until after the war that these were to become the standard issue.
It was at this time that a straight ball-tipped stacking hook was added to upper band of the earlier produced Carabines and Mousquetons but in very limited numbers. Starting in August and again in March 1917 Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) developed “night sights” for the as-issued front and rear sights, the modification consisted of placing a small amount of fluorescent radium in a small 1/8" deep rounded hole on the front sight facing the shooter and two on the back of the rear sight leaf , one on each side of the sight notch.
1920 - "A" sights were started to be adopted, these were squared U shaped rear sights which were meant to replace the earlier rear sight V shaped sights. These sights did not quite replace the older sights of the some of the weapons already in service. If these sights were used they were supposed to be marked with an "A" on base of the rear sight but in most cases this was never done for one reason or another.
The majority of the Carabine de Cuirassiers were converted to the M16 configuration in November which included the adding of the hand guards, the inletted notch and sling bar and the 5 shot en-bloc packet/charger system.
Starting in 1920 the French military had decided to make some new weapons for the forces in Indochina to help replace losses that had incurred during the war and expansion of the forces there, they decided to pattern them on the latest Berthier system that had been adopted in 1916, the M16 configuration. The new weapons were to be called the Fusil de Tirailleur Indochinois Modèle 1902 Modifié 1916, 15,250 of these were made in the following numbers:
1920: 10,000 (A22501 - A32500); 1921: 2,200 (A32501 - A34700); 1924: 1,000 (A34701 - A35700); 1925: 1,000 (A35701 - A36700); 1926: 4,950 (A36701 - A41650); 1927: 3,000 (A41651 - A44650); 1928: 3,100 (A44651 - A47750).
These “new” rifles are extremely rare to find as the majority of them never left Vietnam and have disappeared over time.
1927 - This was the year when the majority of modifications took place, which happened to be the biggest and most extensive re-building program for the French military after The Great War. As had been done before they did what they had to do to make complete weapons, particularly to the M16 configuration using any parts that were on hand. The biggest difference this time for the Carabines and Mousquetons was the stock, in which clearing rod was removed and the clearing rod channel on the left side of the forearm was filled in with a wooden patch or they were completely re-stocked with a brand new stock without the clearing rod channel. In addition, a straight ball-tipped stacking hook was added to the left side of the top barrel band in which two small holes were drilled in the original top barrel band, the stacking hook was then pinned and brazed to the side of the upper barrel band.
Sometime around 1930, they began to update the receivers of guns made before 1909 in which a recoil lug was added to the earlier receivers by a dovetail slot and pin, these were brazed or hard soldered to the receiver.
This modification was done at Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) and when completed they struck a proof mark across the joint. This work is almost totally perfect and reflects the peacetime efforts to rebuild at a leisurely pace.
1932 - Modèle 1932N (Nouveau) was adopted for use, this new cartridge was designed for long range shooting in Heavy Machine Guns, such as the Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss Modèle 1914 and is much more powerful than the regular rifle ammo at the time Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D (am). This cartridge has a much heavier bullet being pushed by a bigger powder charge resulting in a higher chamber pressure and firing this cartridge in a non-N modified weapon will most likely lead to catastrophic failure with injuries for both the shooter and any bystanders.
This cartridge may chamber alright in a non-N modified weapon, which does not have a capital “ N” stamped on the top of the barrel and receiver at 12 O'clock position, and as stated it will generate much higher pressures than expected as the chambers neck (collet) is not sized up to allow the neck of the this cartridge to expand sufficiently to release the bullet as designed. A common misconception is the maximum diameter of the Modèle 1932N bullet which is exactly the same as the Cartouche Modèle 1886 à Balle D (am) bullet: 8,32mm (.3275 inch). The biggest difference between the solid brass lathe turned "D" bullet and the lead-core “N” bullet beside the weight is the location of their maximum diameter: For the “D” bullet, it on the fore part of the bullet, before the crimping groove and outside of the case neck. In the case of the “N” bullet, it is on the aft part of the bullet, after the crimping groove and inside the case neck. Due to the above, the enlarged neck of the Modèle 1932N cartridge had to have a maximum acceptable diameter of 9,02mm instead of 8,80mm for the previous Cartouche Modèle 1886 cartridges. The origin of the chamber re-throating was carried out on the various weapons in service that were still in French inventory as of 1934 with most being done during the period 1935 to 1939. One other interesting fact is the "N" label is a misinterpretation as there is no such item as a "N" cartridge in any of the French texts and if you wish to use the correct name for this cartridge, you would have to call it Cartouche Modèle 1932N.
1934- After World War One had ended the French military realized that the Cartouche Modèle 1886 was not suited for light machine gun usage and in 1924 Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) designed a new light machine gun and cartridge to replace them. What they came up with was a new modern light machine gun, the Fusil Mitrailleuse Modèle 1924 chambered in 7,5x58mm and in 1929 the cartridge case was shortened 4mm (7,5x54mm) to stop the number of accidental incidents between it and the German 7,92x57mm Mauser cartridge. This new cartridge was called Modèle 1929C à Balle Ordinaire, of which Balle C was meant to be used with rifles and Balle D for light machine guns.
Starting in 1927 a small number, under 5,000, of Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 "Lebel" ‘s were converted to the new cartridge, now called the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 Modifié 1927, but due to number of extreme modifications and exorbitant expense required to convert it, the military decided that it would be much easier and less expensive to convert the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915.
In 1932 both Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) and Tulle (MAT) began work on this new conversion, to be called the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 Modifié 1934 or simply “M.34”, after a series of testing at both Camp de Châlons and Camp de Versailles it was adopted for service in early 1934.
The weapon was to retain the typical Berthier lineage but was modified to the following major components: the barrel was replaced with a new 570mm (22.4 inch) chambered for the Modèle 1929C; both the front and rear sights were changed to reflect the change in the new caliber ballistics, the rear sight leaf and base was changed to a sliding ramp type which was graduated from 200 to 900 meters which used simplified correction sights to adjust azimuth/deflection which were marked on the back of the rear sight as D, N or G (Droite, Neutral or Gauche); the bolt head was replaced with one that was able to support the base of the rimless Modèle 1929C and a movable type ejector added; hand guards were added to the top of the barrel and with this a new lower barrel band and hand guard retaining ring near the receiver was used to hold it in place. The biggest modification however was the magazine system which was changed to a 5 round staggered-column box type with a spring loaded follower and solid floor plate. The top of the receiver was notched with charger guides so that the magazine could be loaded by the use of charger/stripper clips. This new rifle was 1,080m (42.51 inch) in overall length and weighed 3,700kg (8.15 pounds). There were two different variations made, one for the infantry and one for the cavalry. The difference between these two was the sling placement, the infantry model had the typical under mounted rear sling configuration and the cavalry model utilizing the sling bar and both had the concentric ring mounted on the left side of the weapon. Approximately 65,000 weapons were converted to this new system from 1934 to 1939 and 90% converted were the infantry version. The bayonet used on the two models was either the Epée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 or Sabre-Baïonnette Modèle 1892-1915 depending on the branch of service the rifle was used by. Most of these rifles were issued to the Fortress Infantry such as those who were stationed on the Maginot Line.
Know serial numbers: F 131; F 64X; F 1665; F 1715; F 47XX; F 9031; F 14707; F 16916; F 18134; F 19437; F 220XX; F 23111; F 24822; F 27182; F 34734; F 34884; F 36983; F 485XX; F 461XX; F 497XX; F 501XX; F 50863; F 509XX; F 533XX; F 53687; F 57213; F 57526; F 5754X; F 57695; F 5811X; F 599XX; F 5XX21; F 6090X; F 61059; F 61106; F 61241; F 6302X (Cavalry)
1937 - A very small unknown amount of Fusil de Tirailleur Indochinois Modèle 1902 were converted at this time to Modèle 1929C to become the Fusil de Tirailleur Indochinois Modèle 1902 Modifié 1937. These are marked on the left side of the receiver “Type S.E - MAS 1902 M.37”, SE is for Service d'Etudes, which was a workshop of Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Saint Etienne (MAS) dedicated to making prototype or very small runs of weapons for testing purpose before the approval of a model for full scale line fabrication. These are extremely rare as the majority of them were destroyed during World War Two.
All of these carbines are on display at the Musée de la MAS in France
Berthier Boitier No1 bis
Mousqueton d'Artillerie Essais No2 bis
Carabine d'Cavalarie Essais No3 bis
TOP: Mousqueton d'Artillerie Essais No2 bis
BOTTOM: Carabine d'Cavalarie Essais No3 bis
© This article is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or part, in any form, without obtaining my written permission