Falling Short: How Years of Submachine Gun Research and Hesitation Left French Fighting Forces Fragile in the Face of War

By Jean Huon

Before the end of WWI, French headquarters realized that the armament of the infantry was obsolete and looked for a quick replacement. At the end of the war, the French government was interested in modern small arms such as the model used by American troops. First, the BAR automatic rifle was adopted on October 16, 1918. Five thousand of these were ordered, and .30-06 cartridges were to be produced in France. But four days later, the order was canceled by General Pétain, the same man who required more modern equipment the year before!

The Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS factory) developed a copy of the Ruby pistol with a longer barrel (never produced). In Châtellerault, the Manufacture d’Armes de Châtellerault (MAC factory) manufactured some 3,160 Vickers Mark II aircraft machine guns, between October 1918 and July 1919.

Private factories also proposed new weapons:

Gladiator was the manufacturer of the Chauchat Light machine gun (247,944 produced) and proposed several automatic small arms designed by Paul Ribeyrolles: a firing port weapon for tanks drawn from an M1917 semi-automatic rifle and also an automatic carbine shooting the first intermediate cartridge ever made.

The 1921 Program

In May 1920, General Duval, chief of the infantry weapons board said that the production of the BAR rifle and its “special” cartridges was absolutely necessary. On May 21, 1921, the artillery headquarters published a very ambitious program meant to replace all individual or collective small arms. All models were concerned, and all the French state-owned and private factories were asked to compete.

Among all the projects, only one was quickly realized: the Châtellerault LMG. The others dragged along...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N4 (April 2019)
and was posted online on February 22, 2019


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