France’s Final Battle Rifle Iteration: The MAS 49-56

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MAS 49-56

This is the MAS 49-56, and this would be the standard infantry rifle for the French military from 1956 all the way until 1979 with the adoption of the FAMAS. Now as we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks, this is being published in conjunction with the Kick starter pre-sale launch of my book on this subject, If you’re interested in French rifles, or small arms development in general, definitely check that out, order yourself a copy today. There’s lots of cool Kick starter only bonuses and discounts available. So check the description text for a link over there. And without further ado, further commercialization, let’s go ahead and dig into this particular rifle.

Now, this of course was developed from the MAS 49, which was developed from the MAS 44, which was developed from the MAS 40, which was originally conceptualized by the French military all the way back in 1921 right after the end of the First World War. So this rifle is a long time coming and a long time in development, and I point that out because successful rifles are often the ones that have had several decades of iteration to really work out all of the problems, and all the manufacturing quirks, and figure out exactly how to get the rifle really working right. And this is an example of a rifle that went through that whole process, although I think it’s a pretty underrated one today. So, the main difference, well, there are two main differences between this and the Model 49.

And well, they’re all kind of from here forward. So they shortened the barrel, they realised that the MAS 49 had really a longer barrel than it needed. This is modern combat, like we’ve got guys in helicopters and vehicles, and a shorter rifle really helps, and that extra barrel length doesn’t actually contribute all that much of importance in terms of ballistics. So, cut the barrel down, and while we’re at it we’ll cut the stock down too because really do you need a hand guard way out here? We’re not grabbing the rifle out there. We can save some weight by cutting that off as well, and so they did that. Around this time period (and this is the early to mid-1950s) that they were developing this. In fact, the MAS 49 didn’t actually go into production until 1951, and it was only in production for a few years.

They had prototypes of this available or finished in 1954, and they adopted it in May of 1956. So around this time they’re also changing the style of rifle grenade that they used, from this small diameter one that was used on the MAS 36 LG48 grenade launchers and the MAS 49s, to a NATO standard 22mm. internal diameter grenade. So they have to change up the grenade launching hardware on the rifles to accommodate that new grenade. And this is how they did it. So we’ll take a closer look at the hardware out here, but when they made that change they also went ahead and implemented a gas cutoff into the rifle. One of the shortcomings of the MAS 49 was that, while it was set up to launch rifle grenades, it didn’t have a cutoff.

Which means when you fired a rifle grenade the bolt came slamming back in the action a lot faster than it was really designed to, and they realised after a short period that, you know, this was going to have negative effects on the rifles over time. And so, in fact, some of the manuals for the MAS 49 will actually specifically warn you against using them to launch rifle grenades. And on some of the rifles they actually removed the grenade launching hardware entirely. So by adding a gas cutoff what they’re doing is preventing the launching of a rifle grenade from actually cycling the action, and that saves a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the gun itself.

So that was probably the most significant mechanical change in the MAS 49-56. The MAS 49-56 continues this intention from the MAS 49 of being a universal sort of infantry rifle, wherein it can be equipped with a scope for use as a sniper or designated marksman’s rifle, as well as being able to be used as a grenadier’s rifle or as just a rifle. So we have the common pattern, the later pattern, of scope mount here, which is kind of pushed forward to give you a little bit more eye relief on the scope. This is the same standard APX L806 telescope (that APX, by the way, stands for Ateliers de Puteaux or Puteaux workshops, Puteaux starting with a P and ending with an X in French).

Scopes were manufactured by three different companies and all serialised. It’s a 3.85 power scope, and it is basically a. functional copy of the German ZF4. Go ahead and pull this off for the moment, just pop that lever and then this slides off. It does retain zero when you do that, which is pretty cool. The development of the rear sight on these rifles is kind of funny because it sort of bounces back and forth. The original MAS 44 had no adjustment whatsoever, if you wanted to change the zero you changed the. whole rear leaf to have a leaf with a different location aperture in it. Then with the MAS 49 they went quite a ways in the other direction and they added screw adjustments for wind age and elevation. And then when they came back to the MAS 49-56 they decided that that was a little more adjustment than they really needed, and it was extra complexity and fragility in the sight that they didn’t want and so they reduced it to just a wind age elevation.

So your elevation is adjusted simply through your BDC here for a range from 200 out to 1200 meters, and then you do have a screw adjustable wind age there. These still have the same 10 round magazine of every other rifle in this family, and it still has this external clip which, if you didn’t watch the video on the MAS 44, you wouldn’t know that this comes from an original design of the rifle having a fixed magazine and five round stripper clip feed. In fact something that I haven’t mentioned that I should is that all of these rifles can be fed by stripper clips. So when the magazine is empty the bolt does lock open, and you have a stripper clip guide built into the bolt face there. So you can load a pair of five round stripper clips – hence the thumb relief right here for stripping rounds into the magazine.

Moving up to the front end of the rifle, of course the stock has been cut down as I mentioned. The gas port was actually moved forward a couple inches from where it was located on the MAS 49. That increased the dwell time and made the gun a little bit more reliable. And then they also added a bunch of this hardware, so let’s take a look at how that works. This is your rear sight for using rifle grenades, and you line this up with the tip of the grenade to aim it. And you’ll notice that you can’t lift this up to use it as long as this is down, which is convenient, because that is the gas cutoff. So when this is lifted up the gas is cut off and the rifle now operates as a single shot, manually operated gun. That means that when you fire a rifle grenade you’re not putting all this force on the operating system. So once the gas is cut off, then you can lift up the rear sight.

And that can go into one of two different positions: either there, or all the way elevated like that. Which position you use depends on whether you’re going to be firing direct-fire, typically anti-tank grenades, or indirect-fire, typically anti-personnel grenades. So for some of your grenades you will choose which one of these notches, typically one of these three, 50, 75 or 100. Or if you’re firing indirect-fire, what you would do is use this adjustable ring to determine the range of the grenade. So the position of this ring determines how far the grenade actually sits on the barrel which determines how long it’s being propelled by the charge in the barrel from the blank cartridge when you fire and so what we have here are range designations from 90 meters all the way out here, all the way back to 190 meters all the way at the rear. And that’s what this movable adjustable ring is for. I’m sure some of you noticed this thing on the butt-stock of the rifle.This is an added recoil pad and there are actually two different thicknesses of this that were made, and this is specifically for firing direct-fire rifle grenades. However, it does do double duty as an extension to the length of pull of the rifle.

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