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French Model 1944 7.5 Semiauto Rifle


The MAS 44 French Rifle was the predecessor to the more common MAS 49/56 Rifle.

By the end of World War in II 1945, French military planners knew the day of bolt-action service rifles had just about ended. Although poverty forced them to keep their prewar bolt-action MAS-36 in production for almost another decade and national pride would not allow them to accept M1 Garands from the United States, another option beckoned.

Even while France was under Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944, the design staff at the Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne had quietly been developing a semiauto rifle. They had a prototype ready by late 1944, so with the liberation of France from Nazi occupation, the new rifle could be made ready for production and service. This became known as the MAS-44.

To save money, the MAS-44 used the same two-piece stock and reversible spike bayonet as the MAS-36. The MAS-44 also fired the same cartridge used in the MAS-36, the French 7.5x54mm Modele 1929 service cartridge. Standardized shortly before World War II and based on a slightly shortened German 8mm Mauser case, the 7.5x54mm round had given good service during the war both in rifles and in machine guns.

Because of these shared components and because its large, flat-sided receiver and sights also resembled those of the MAS-36, some have mistakenly assumed that the MAS-44 was simply MAS-36 converted to self-loading operation. The truth is that the MAS-44 was an entirely new and different design. Its resemblance to the earlier MAS-36 was purely external.

The MAS-44 and the later MAS-49 series use direct gas impingement to blow back the bolt carrier, forcing the bolt open after each shot. While going back, the bolt tips away from the bolt carrier in the manner of the Soviet-designed Tokarev rifle.

The MAS design staff was aware of both the Tokarev, which inspired the bolt arrangement, and the Swedish Ljungman rifle, introduced in 1942, which inspired the direct gas system. The most famous rifle to use the direct gas system was, of course, the ArmaLite AR-15.

Aware that French rifle development was decades behind United States and Germany, the French took their time to make sure all details of the MAS-44 were just right before embarking on series production.

French Indochina (Vietnam) received 1,000 MAS-44s in 1946 so that French troops fighting the Vietminh communist forces there could gain combat experience with the design and also suggest improvements. This experience led to the MAS-44A in 1948. Essentially similar to the MAS-44, the MAS-44A lost a bayonet in favor of an integral grenade launcher placed on the muzzle.

Further developmental work in 1949 led to the MAS-49, which satisfied the French authorities, who ordered it into series production in 1951, in time to serve in the declining years of France's losing colonial war in Vietnam. The MAS-49 proved so successful as a battle rifle that the obsolete bolt-action MAS-36, which France had reluctantly kept in production as a hedge against possible failure of the semiautomatic rifle project, could finally be discontinued in 1953.

The MAS-49 remained in production until 1957, when a slight redesign led to the MAS-49/56. This restored a bayonet to the design, but not the idiosyncratic spike fitted to the MAS-36. Instead, a blade bayonet was used, though still unusual in having two attachment rings rather than one. A muzzle brake was also added to the grenade launcher.

Although it came along too late to go into combat with French forces in Vietnam, the MAS-49/56 managed to see considerable military service just the same. France's disastrous defeat in Vietnam, highlighted by the catastrophic Battle of Dienbienphu (1954), encouraged the Algerians to revolt from French rule later that same year.

Determined to avoid a second disastrous defeat from a colony and total collapse of their empire, France committed its best resources to Algeria, including embryonic helicopter gunships and large numbers of MAS-49 and MAS-49/56 rifles. The MAS-49series rifles served both with regular French units and with the Foreign Legion formations committed to the ferocious battle. While the rifles performed well and the men fought bravely, it was a losing cause and France finally withdrew in 1962.

The MAS-49/56 remained in production until 1970 and, along with surviving MAS-49s, served in the French armed forces until the 1980s before being phased out of active duty and passed to reserve units. In the 1990s the French sold off their MAS-49-type rifles, and many of these have been imported into the United States.

Like the earlier MAS-36, the MAS-49 and MAS-49/56 originally chambered the French 7.5x54mm Mle 1929 service cartridge. A Mauser-style cartridge, this offers excellent performance but has been in limited supply in the United States. Fortunately, at least two reputable ammunition manufacturers -- Ammo Depot and Old Western Scrounger -- now make 7.5x54mm ammunition for American shooters, but a recent conversion by Federal Arms Corporation allows shooters to use the much more common .308 (7.62x51mm NATO) round instead.

"MAS" is short for Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de St. Etienne, the name of France's oldest national arsenal. Elements of the MAS 49/56 emerge as early as the Model 1928, which was refined in the 1930s and scheduled for full production in 1940. Unfortunately, Germany had other plans and its occupation of France for four years put a hold on the rollout of the MAS 1940. It emerges after the war as the Model 1944, which sees action in Indochina, and is further refined in 1949 and then again in 1956. Between 1957 and 1978, 275,240 MAS 49/56 models are manufactured and the French army is completely armed with them by the mid 1960s. The MAS is then slowly phased out after France adopts the spacey-looking 5.56mm FAMAS bullpup in 1979.

The MAS 49/56 is chambered for the French 7.5x54mm cartridge adopted in 1929. The .307" military ball weighs 139 grains and consists of a lead core and cupro-nickel-plated steel jacket. The powder charge is approximately 46 grains of a medium-burning flake powder. The official muzzle velocity of military ball is listed at 2,690 fps. In short, it is just about on par with the 7.62 NATO.

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This product was added to our catalog on Friday 04 January, 2008.

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