Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guns I wish I had: MAS 36

I have not done a post on the guns that I wish I had for quite a while and I think it is high time we got back to wishing for all the cool guns that are out there.

Today's wish list gun is the MAS Modele 36. It was the principle French long arm in WWII, adopted in 1936 to replace the older Berthier and Lebel rifles. It is a bolt action rifle, firing the 7.5x54mm French cartridge from an internal 5-round box magazine. It was a mix of conventional, battle proven technology with some French flair. It weighed in at just over 8 pounds and mounts a 22.6 inch barrel. It was built by Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS) and designed to address shortcomings of the French service rifles used in WWI. It was much shorter and lighter than rifles of the earlier generation and has a reputation as one of the most robust bolt action rifles of the era. And you might think: "Boy, is it ugly".  But that is okay, and in my mind, some of the best guns are ugly and some of the prettiest ones don't work all that well. (I call this the Glock/Luger conundrum) In fact, I rather like its non-conformist looks.
 The MAS 36 was obviously designed with the French experiences in WWI in mind. It was significantly shorter and lighter than the weapons that preceded it and it has many features that make the weapon suitable for mass issue to a large, quickly trained army of conscripts. It is a very rugged weapon that is adapted for hard field use.  It used some features of other popular and successful rifles of the era. Like the SMLE, it has a relatively short barrel and its bolt has its locking lugs at the rear to minimize the effect of dirty conditions. It features a internal 5 round box magazine, although I think a SMLE-style 10 round detachable, stripper clip-fed magazine would have been a better choice. It used rear peep sight like the M1917 Enfield. The bolt handle of the MAS 36 is also pointed forward in a very unique and unconventional but uncomfortable-looking fashion.
 This was done to move the handle closer to the firing hand and make cycling the action faster and smoother. By its reputation, it succeeded. Having not yet had a chance to even handle a MAS 36, I cannot tell you whether or not that is the case. Some internet commenters claim that the action can be cycled without taking one's eyes of the sight, but I have my doubts. But it certainly looks like a more ergonomic action than many that preceded it and it could be worked with the rifle still mounted in the shoulder, which speeds up firing. The MAS 36 can mount a simple and cheap 17 inch spike bayonet that fits into a socket underneath the barrel as you can see below. It is locked in and released by pressing the spring loaded plunger. This is real improvement on the sword-bayonets of earlier eras, which were huge, ungainly, much more expensive to make, and spent 99% of their time hanging uselessly on the belt, getting in the way of sitting down.

As the weapon was intended for France's large conscript army, it was not meant to be serviced in the field, but rather almost all work on the rifle beyond simple cleaning was done by armorers. To this end the barrel bands are secured by nonstandard screws to keep the soldiers from taking the weapon apart. The sights are a mix of good and bad features. Gone were the WWI and earlier sights that dream that regular infantry are going to engage enemy targets beyond 1000 yards.  Replacing them was a system that got it right, then got it really wrong. The MAS 36 has a front post sight with nice strong ears to protect it. Good. The rear sight however, makes me despair.  (and is the reason I will not be actively searching for a MAS 36 for my own) The rear sight is adjusted in a way I have never come across. Instead of a peep aperture that can be moved right and left or up and down on a screw, it uses different leaf sight plates with the hole drilled a little to the left or right.(or up and down) If your rifle is not shooting on target, the armorer replaces your rear sight with another until it is on target. Each one has a stamped code that denotes whether it is centered or offset. There were 8 different plates for the pre-WWII rifles and 24 (!) for the post-WWII models.  This might have worked to make a pretty good sight that is impact and weather resistant, but I just do not like the idea of not being able to adjust the sights quickly and easily.  I suppose part of the idea of this strange rear sight is that they did not want the soldiers attempting to zero the sights and getting it wrong.

The MAS-36 does not feature any type of safety mechanism, and the theory behind that is that the soldiers would carry the weapon with a loaded magazine and empty chamber unless (or until) they were in active combat. French troops were taught to fire at the command of their officer- firing as a group, rather than firing "at will".  There was also some institutional distrust of safeties in general, with the prevailing opinion being that in the heat of battle, in the wet and mud, a safety might be too difficult to use or that it might get stuck in the "safe" position. While we might think that a rifle without a safety would be obviously less safe, when we look at the training of the French Army, we can see that it might have helped to reduce negligent discharges. The French troops were taught to cycle the bolt twice and visually inspect the chamber upon cease fire to ensure that there were no rounds in the chamber. Discipline was very strict on this matter, as it should be.

MAS 36 with "cup" hand grenade launcher

The MAS 36 was used by French forces in WWII, although it was not made in sufficient numbers to be issued to all troops and the Lebel and Berthier service rifles were in use as well. It was used by the Nazis as the Gewehr 242(f), mainly by troops occupying France and by the Volkssturm. Post WWII, it continued to be used, especially in the French colonies, even after it was officially replaced by the semi-automatic MAS-49. There are still descendants of the MAS 36 in service today. The French military's FR F1 and FR F2 marksman's rifles use the same bolt design as the MAS 36 and resemble it a little too. 

MAS 36/51 with 22mm NATO standard rifle grenade launcher

Several different versions of the MAS 36 have been manufactured. The standard version, a version called the LG48 for firing rifle grenades with a 48mm launcher, the improved MAS 36/51 - strengthened to fire NATO-type rifle grenades,and also a shorter version with a hollow aluminum stock called the MAS 36 CR39 that was designed for paratroopers. The last variant was called the Fusil modele FR-G2 and was equipped with a telescopic sight and a match grade barrel with a harmonic compensator. It was used as a designated marksman's rifle at the time of the Suez Crisis. Some MAS 36 rifles were imported to the USA and rechambered to 7.62mm NATO, but there are a whole bunch of bad reports about them, so I would steer clear unless you just want one to hang on the wall.

MAS 36 and MAS 36 CR39 paratrooper rifle

MAS 36 LG 48 with rifle grenade attached


  1. Very cool I really did not know much at all about this rifle.

  2. I don't like this rifle, but it is some kind of a machine...
    fun fact: the bayonet from the mas 36 was used by the germans for the FG42

  3. MAS FR G1, FR G2 and G3 are in service in Air Force and now phase out in favor of the HK417 & HK G3/SG.

    The MAS FR Gx wase build on MAS 36 action, as cheap alternative to the FR F1/F2.

  4. I have a MAS 36 and the rear peep sight is marked -8D8, when I was at the range it fired to the right and all five rounds were touching. I am really impressed with the accuracy of this gun. I have done some research and there are different rear sites I can get to bring it back to the center. Which one do you recomend