ENT M-1886 “Lebel”

     Notes:  More properly known as the Fusil d’Infanterie Mle. 1886, The Lebel M-1886 is notable since it is the first military rifle to use both smokeless powder and (what was considered at the time) a small-caliber bullet.  (It should be noted that the rifle became known as the “Lebel,” over the protests of Colonel Lebel himself – he did not design the rifle, only the cartridge.)  The new round was a technical advance, but rather strangely-implemented; it was behind the times as far as feed was concerned, using a tubular magazine (in a bolt-action rifle, which is rather unusual), but ahead of the times as far as the ammunition is concerned.  It essentially led to an arms race that would last some 20 years, until the Mauser series of rifles came into its own.  In the meantime, the M-1886 was issued to the French military and the Foreign Legion alike. In 1915, large numbers of the M-1886/93 were supplied to Imperial Russia; later, they were sold or supplied to Belgium, Serbia, Romania, and Greece.  Some were also captured by the Germans in World War 1, and used to equip some of their second-line and service troops; some of these were modified to take the standard Mauser bayonet.

     The Lebel M-1886 is essentially a Mle. 1885 modified to use the new ammunition; changes included a new barrel, bolt head, and a new chamber.  The barrel length was an astounding 31.5 inches. The M-1886 was forced to use round-headed ammunition by the tubular magazine feed (at the time, Spitzer (pointed-nose) bullets were quite unreliable in a tubular feed magazine, with the point of the bullet often setting off the primer of the round ahead of it in the magazine in the shock of firing the weapon).  The bolt action had a massive, exposed receiver with a bolt handle that stuck straight out from the weapon.  The peculiar bolt mechanism and the need for a large tubular magazine led to a long, heavy, and unbalanced rifle which took some time for shooters to get used to.  The wooden stock was straight-wristed with a quite long length of pull.  The magazine feed could be cut off, allowing for the feeding of single rounds into the rifle (French tactics of the time called for the shooter to feed single rounds into the weapon under most circumstances, using the magazine only to defend against incoming charges or when a large volume of fire was otherwise needed). Experienced users of the M-1886 had a trick for loading more ammunition into the weapon at once – they would fill the tubular magazine, load one into the chamber, and put an extra round into the cartridge lifter, giving them ten rounds to work with.  The sights were unusual, with the rear sight being a very wide U-shaped notch on a stepped ramp graduated for 400-800 meters, and a folding leaf graduated for 900-2000 meters.  For short-range shooting, the folded leaf has a fixed notch sight useful out to about 250 meters. The front sight was a block-like blade with a groove on top, with the shooter aligning the front and rear sights and placing the target in the groove.  The M-1886 did not have a safety; instead, it had a very heavy target pull to prevent accidental discharges.

     In 1893, minor modifications were made to the M-1886; the firing pin, muzzle band, and bolt head were modified.  Wings were added around the rear sight base, as the sight tended to separate using the simple soldering used on the M-1886. Despite these minor modifications, the rifle was given a new designation, the M-1886/93.  It is identical to the standard M-1886 for game purposes.  Another minor and relatively rare variation, the M-1886/93/R35, was a carbine version with a 17.7-inch barrel and a tubular magazine that held only three rounds.

     In 1929, some experimental M-1886/30 rifles were rechambered to take the then-new 7.5mm MAS round.  These experimental rifles received new 24-inch barrels, a new bolt head, and a box magazine to replace the tubular magazine.  They were designated the M-1886/27.  However, the decision to develop a new rifle (which eventually became the MAS-36) cut these tests short.  The stats below are presented as a “what-if.”

     Despite its being essentially obsolete well before World War 1, the M-1886 remained in service with the French until the end of World War 2 (in limited numbers).

     The tubular magazine of the Lebel M-1886 was far too slow and difficult to load, especially as the feed spring in the magazine was very stiff.  The Berthier modification (the Mle 1907/15, generally known as the “Lebel-Berthier”) was a box magazine with a Mannlicher clip, in addition to allowing the weapon to use the new Spitzer-pointed boattail bullet.  The original Berthier modification gave it only a three-round magazine in order to avoid having to do heavy modifications to the stock, but later a 5-round magazine was adapted to it by adding a sheet-metal extension to the bottom of the stock.  This version was variously referred to as the Mle 1916, Mle 1907/15/16, and its official designation, the Mle 1907/15 et 1916.)  For the most part, the M-1907/15 went to Foreign Legionnaires; this gave them the best rifle in the world for a few years.

     The Berthier modification remained in service until the 1950s, and a few were given mounts for telescopic sights and used as ad hoc sniper rifles. Others were given extended muzzle rifle grenade-launching attachments.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

Lebel M-1886

8mm Lebel Rifle

4.28 kg

8 Tubular

$1622

Lebel M-1886/93/R35

8mm Lebel Rifle

3.54 kg

3 Tubular

$1481

Lebel-Berthier M-1907/15

8mm Lebel Rifle

3.81 kg

3 Clip

$1623

Lebel-Berthier M-1907/15/16

8mm Lebel Rifle

3.84 kg

5 Clip

$1623

Lebel-Berthier M-1886/27

7.5mm MAS

3.71 kg

5 Clip

$1506

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

Lebel M-1886

BA

5

2-3-Nil

9

4

Nil

120

Lebel M-1886/93/R35

BA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

57

Lebel-Berthier M-1907/15

BA

5

2-3-Nil

8

5

Nil

121

Lebel-Berthier M-1907/15/16

BA

5

2-3-Nil

8

5

Nil

121

Lebel-Berthier M-1886/27

BA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

90

 

Meunier Fusil A6

     Notes: This was at first only a provisionally-accepted rifle, but the coming of World War 1 and difficulties with the St. Etienne M-1917 led to more widespread deployment of the Fusil A6 than it might otherwise have gotten.  It was an advanced semiautomatic rifle for the time, one of the few decent weapons the French fielded during World War 1.  The biggest problem was the special ammunition required for the rifle, which led to continual ammunition shortages for those specialist troops equipped with the Fusil A6.  (About 750 Fusil A6’s were built, and issued mainly to sharpshooters.)

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

Fusil A6

7mm STA

4.04 kg

6 Clip

$1130

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

Fusil A6

SA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

92

 

St. Etienne M-1917/M-1918

     Notes:  It seemed to be beyond the power of post-World War 1 French arms manufacturers to design a weapon that was either reliable or esthetically appealing.  Case in point: the St. Etienne M-1917, brought to you by the designers of the Chauchat.  The rifle was an early attempt at a semiautomatic infantry weapon.  However, the gas port tended to get very easily blocked, leading to jams.  It was long and poorly-balanced.  The magazine held only 5 rounds and was fixed; no chargers were available for quick loading.  And the M-1917 used the notoriously unreliable 8mm Lebel cartridge, a round that was poorly-shaped for a semiautomatic weapon.  In 1918, The St. Etienne was shortened and the magazine modified to accept a charger; the shorter length partially relieved the balance problem, but increased the muzzle blast and fouling.  In 1935, most of the surviving M-1917s and M-1918s were modified into bolt-action weapons, which at least solved the problem of jamming.  They were issued to French troops stationed in Equatorial Africa.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

M-1917

8mm Lebel

5.25 kg

5 Internal

$1196

M-1918

8mm Lebel

4.79 kg

5 Clip

$1111

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

M-1917

SA

5

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

109

M-1918

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

77

 

St. Etienne MAS-36

     Notes: More properly known as the Fusil MAS Mle. 1936, this rifle arose after the shortcomings of the Mle 1886 series (especially it’s 8mm Lebel Rifle cartridge), and was the last bolt-action service rifle developed for the army of a major power (at the time).  The MAS-36 was the first service rifle developed expressly for the 7.5mm MAS cartridge, but was still essentially a development of the M-1886 series of rifles.  Though regarded as an ugly and clumsy weapon, it could stand up to virtually any sort of abuse known to man, from surviving explosions to being used as an improvised club or crowbar.  Even the 22.6” barrel, though exposed for a large part of its length, was thickened and strengthened to make it stronger despite the exposure.  The MAS-36 was the last bolt-action rifle adopted by any major power as a standard infantry weapon, and served for almost 40 years.  Thou official production of the MAS-36 ended in 1953, MAS-36s continued to be assembled from parts already manufactured for several years more.  The MAS-36 served in the French reserve forces well into the 1970s, and it still the standard rifle of the French Gendarmerie, who have rebuilt heavily and repeatedly over the years.  The Viet Minh captured many MAS-36s from the French in Indochina during their involvement there, and these later showed up in Viet Cong hands during the Vietnam War until replaced by Soviet and Chinese weapons.

     The MAS-36, despite its “Lebel” rifle ancestry, is immediately identifiable by this exposed length of barrel, along with the front sight set back from the muzzle and the shorter, lighter receiver and bolt.  The MAS-36 also is equipped with a cruciform bayonet; this bayonet is kept in a hollow tube in the fore-end beneath the barrel.  The bayonet is removed from the tube for use, and the other end is inserted into the tube, with a lug on the barrel a little ahead of that.  The MAS-36 still used a two-piece stock changed very little from the M-1886 series.  The sights were considered excellent, but the trigger pull was extremely heavy.  There was also no manual safety of any kind, and only one passive safety.  The biggest problem with the MAS-36 is in fact that bolt-action system.  The bolt was designed to lock into the receiver behind the magazine, instead of above it; this made the MAS-36 a shorter weapon than normal, but also turned the bolt pull so short that the handle had to be bent forward, and pulling the bolt when the shooter had his head in the normal aiming position meant that he was usually pulling the bolt into his nose.

     A very rare variant of the MAS-36 is the MAS-36/CR39, which is a folding-stock paratrooper’s weapon; the stock remains solid, but folds for parachute drops or storage.  It is not recommended that the MAS-36/CR39 be fired with the stock folded, though it is possible to do so.  The MAS-36/CR39 uses a shortened 17.7-inch barrel. A less-rare variant is the MAS-36/LG48; this is a standard MAS-36 with an attachment on the muzzle for older-type (non-bullet-trap) rifle grenades.  This version also has a rifle grenade sight on an arm on the left side of the barrel, and range for the rifle grenade could be somewhat adjusted by rotating a gas trap collar at the muzzle.  The MAS-36/LG48 was usually issued with a slip-on rubber recoil pad for the butt that also protected the butt when the rifle grenades were fired with the butt braced against the ground. The MAS-36/LG48 is otherwise identical to a standard MAS-36 for game purposes.  A training version, the MAS-36 Subcaliber, was also produced for training; this version uses a barrel insert and modified bolt and sights for use with .22 Long Rifle ammunition.

     Century International has been selling military surplus MAS-36s on the military surplus market since the early 1990s.  These are standard MAS-36s, often refinished and sometimes with replacement parts, but for game purposes are identical to the standard MAS-36.  MAS-36/CR39s are sometimes seen on the military surplus market, where they command a rather high (real-world) price.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

MAS-36

7.5mm MAS

3.75 kg

5 Clip

$1492

MAS-36/CR39

7.5mm MAS

3.25 kg

5 Clip

$1467

MAS-36 Subcaliber

.22 Long Rifle

3.85 kg

5 Clip

$295

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

MAS-36

BA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

82

MAS-36/CR39

BA

4

2-3-Nil

5/6

5

Nil

57

MAS-36 Subcaliber

BA

1

Nil

7

1

Nil

50

 

St. Etienne MAS-44

     Notes: In the fall of 1944, the French began work on trying to perfect the pre-war MAS-39 (an unsuccessful semiautomatic design), which eventually resulted in the MAS-44.  First issue to French troops (specifically, French Marine Commandos fighting in Indochina) began in 1946, and the MAS-44 was rarely seen outside of French issue or issue to the troops of former French colonies.  The MAS-44 used the stock, fittings, and bayonet of the MAS-36, but of course used a semiautomatic action based on gas with tilting-block locking.  The charging handle was sometimes a sore point with troops in Indochina; it protruded rather far from the right side of the receiver.  The 24.1-inch barrel and 42.35-inch overall length was also a bit unwieldy for jungle-operating troops.  The range this long barrel produced was appreciated by other French troops, however.  The MAS-44 used a tangent-leaf rear sight and a simple ramp front sight. 

     In 1948, the MAS-44A was introduced; this was a rifle grenade-firing version with the muzzle modified for that purpose, the bayonet lug deleted, and an extra sight for grenade launching added near the muzzle.  The MAS-44A shoots the same as the MAS-44 for game purposes, though in real-life terms it was a bit muzzle-heavy.

     The MAS-44 proved to have a lot of problems with fouling, both in the gas tube and the bore and was further modified, resulting in the MAS-49 (see below).  The MAS-44 was therefore withdrawn from service in 1951.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

MAS-44

7.5mm MAS

4.07 kg

10

$1094

MAS-44A

7.5mm MAS

4.11 kg

10

$1099

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

MAS-44

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

82

 

St. Etienne MAS-49

     Notes: This original version of this rifle, the MAS-49, was the second semiautomatic weapon produced by France after World War 2 for their military.  (An earlier version, the MAS-44, had severe problems with fouling and was reworked.)  It had been known for a long time (at least since before World War 2) that France needed to catch up and produce at least a semiautomatic service rifle for their troops, but World War 2 interrupted this development.  Production began in earnest early in the 1950s, with the MAS-49/56 appearing in late 1957, and production continuing until 1978.  In addition to France, users included virtually anywhere that the French Foreign Legion operated, as some were inevitably captured – Africa, the Middle East, and Indochina.  (Examples turned up in the hands of the Viet Cong in the early stages of the Vietnam War.)  As late as 1992, the MAS-49 and MAS-49/56 was in service with the French Gendarmerie and some French Army reserve units.

     The MAS-49 was made for their then-standard 7.5mm French Service cartridge, and the muzzle includes a combination muzzle brake and rifle grenade launcher attachment.  The firing mechanism is very similar to that used by the US M-1 Garand, and is quite reliable, though of course, the problem with the ringing noise that occurs when an M-1 Garand is emptied is reproduced on the MAS-49, despite the box magazine feed.  Like the MAS-36, the MAS-49 had a heavy, massive machined receiver which increased the weight of the weapon as a whole, though the MAS-49 was a very tough and “soldier-proof” weapon because of the heavy construction.  Also like the MAS-36, the MAS-49 has a two piece stock, built of medium grade wood.  The charging handle, for whatever reason, was painted in bright white, perhaps to allow it to be found quickly in the heat of battle.  The magazine could be simply placed into the weapon in a conventional manner, or topped from the top with 10-round chargers.  The attachment device for the magazine is unusual in that it is a large, spring-loaded clamp on the right side of the magazine itself.  The fore-end was virtually full-length, leaving enough barrel exposed to allow for the muzzle brake/grenade launcher.  Operation is by gas.  By 1957, some 20,000 MAS-49s had been produced, most of which were issued to the French Foreign Legion; however, they were less-than-satisfied by the weight and the length of the weapon, especially since they were fighting in what was then French Indochina.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, most MAS-49s were sort of dumped on the French Gendarmerie, where they were used as sharpshooters weapons (sometimes scoped), until superseded by better, dedicated sharpshooter and sniper’s weapons a few years later. They then were given to former French colonies in Africa and South America; though they will sometimes still be found in French Guyana service, in Africa they were quickly discarded in favor of cheap, easy to find AK-47s and AKMs.  After that, they started showing up on the international market for sale to civilians, where they still didn’t sell very well (though they are still available even today).

     In the mid-1950s, the French responded to the Foreign Legion’s demand for a shorter, lighter rifle with the MAS-49/56.  This rifle was essentially the same, but the receiver was not quite so heavy, the barrel was over 2  inches shorter than the MAS-49’s 22.8-inch barrel at 20.7 inches, the fore-end was lighter (mostly due to the shorter barrel), and the length of pull was slightly lessened.  The spike-type bayonet issued with the MAS-49 was replaced with a shorter knife-type bayonet.  Both the front and rear sight were capable of fine adjustments, with the rear sight adjustable for windage and the front for elevation. A rifle-grenade launching adapter was added to the end of the barrel. This version was far more successful with over 275,000 being manufactured by 1978, but it was eventually replaced by the FAMAS assault rifle, and then it had the same fate as the MAS-49 (except that the French Gendarmerie never used them). 

     French Foreign Legionnaires often turned their MAS-49s into ad hoc sniper rifles by having their receivers grooved to accept a scope mount, and mounting the Mle 1953 (APX-L806) 3.85x scope on them.  For game purposes, they are simply standard MAS-49s with a scope on them.

     In the late 1950s, some MAS-49s were converted to the new NATO standard 7.62mm NATO cartridge, and some MAS-49/56s also had this conversion done.  However, more of these conversions were done just before they were offered on the civilian market, and more done by independent gunsmiths after they were bought (especially in the US, Canada, and Mexico).

     Twilight 2000 Notes: Ironically, a lot of civilian-owned MAS-49s and MAS-49/56s were turned on the French by Belgian, Dutch, German, and Luxembourger partisans after the French invasions of their countries, most of which had already been converted to 7.62mm NATO.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

MAS-49

7.5mm MAS

4.72 kg

10

$1131

MAS-49

7.62mm NATO

4.65 kg

10

$1092

MAS-49/56

7.5mm MAS

3.9 kg

10

$1109

MAS-49/56

7.62mm NATO

3.84 kg

10

$1070

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

MAS-49 (7.5mm)

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

3

Nil

76

MAS-49 (7.62mm)

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

3

Nil

75

MAS-49/56 (7.5mm)

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

3

Nil

66

MAS-49/56 (7.62mm)

SA

4

2-3-Nil

7

3

Nil

65