MAS-36: The Backup Rifle is Called to Action

There is a common assumption that the MAS-36 was a fool’s errand from the outset – why would a country develop a brand new bolt action rifle in the mid 1930s, when obviously semiautomatic combat rifles were just on the cusp of widespread adoption? Well, the answer is a simple one – the French were developing a semiautomatic rifle at the same time, and the MAS-36 was only intended to go to rear echelon and reserve troops. It would serve as a measure of economy, reducing the number of the more complex and expensive self-loaders necessary, while still providing sufficient arms to equip the whole reserve in case of a mobilization.

Well, the plan didn’t quite work out that way, because Germany invaded France before the semiauto rifle was ready for production (it was, at that point, the MAS-40 and was in trials). Not until 1949 would the self-loader go into mass production with the MAS-49 (discounting the short-lived MAS-44). With this in mind, the MAS-36 suddenly makes much more sense. It is a simple, economical, and entirely adequate rifle without extraneous niceties. In a word, it is a Russian rifle rather than a Swiss one.

Production began in the fall of 1937, and by the time of the German invasion there were about 205,000 in French stockpiles. They saw extensive use in the Battle of France, along with M34 Berthiers in 7.5x54mm. Some would escape to serve the Free French forces worldwide through the war, and others would be captured and used by German garrisons in France and along the Atlantic Wall. Production resumed upon the liberation of St Etienne in 1944, and by 1957 about 1.1 million had been made. They basically fall into two varieties, with several pre-war milled components changed to more economical stamped designs after the war.

Get the shirt here:

38 Comments

  1. I take offense over the “only dropped once”.

    Typically, those who find it funny never lived in a country neighboring nazi Germany.

    Typically, those who find it funny are thinking the French should have held their ground down to the last man.

    Typically, those who find it funny never lived under the boot of the invading Huns and never saw a familiy member slaughtered.

    It is not funny.

    Not one bit.

    Drop this trash.

      • I never got the reference on the t-shirt. I knew it celebrated the sacrifice of the French Army in WWI, but never having come across the original ‘joke’ the ‘Only Dropped Once’ wording made no sense.

    • @J:
      You probably, due to image resolution, don’t see all texts (also I don’t) but they are:
      [left column]
      Aisne
      Artois
      [unintelligible]tiers
      Somme
      Ypres
      [right column]
      Amiens (?)
      Champagne
      Marne
      Verdun
      That is names of places where battles during Great War taken place.

    • I think you have missed the intention of this shirt. It is subverting the typical unfunny joke about French weapons having been dropped when their owner surrendered.
      In this case, the rifle was dropped only when the Poilu was killed in the act of resisting the invaders. It infers he fought to the very end.

      • Ross correctly describes the intent of the shirt. I must say though, that in the sad state of affrays in which we live today the potential for misunderstanding and reinforcing a cruel and false joke is still there, whether due to low resolution images, short attention spans, etc. The shirt relies on the reader taking the time and effort to read and understand the significance of the battle names, to create a contrast with the big text from the old cruel joke.

    • I think it is hysterical. There is a persistent rumor that, in a fit of military tactical genius, the French actually inadvertently surrendered to themselves on more than one occasion.

      Lighten up. Had the French (and admittedly others as well) dealt with Hitler properly from the getgo, WWII would not have happened. They are not cowards – read a few books about the Resistance and the many brave French that faced firing squads and worse, at the hands of the Nazis – but many, many French swallowed their pride (and their integrity along with it) and collaborated on a massive scale.

      Being a second – excuse me, third – rate power makes one a bit insecure. I’ll chalk your comments up to that. I mean, after all, when is the last time the rest up us (who have been doing the heavy lifting for, jeepers what, a century?) depended on France for anything?

      We move the furniture. The French are happy to put down the doilies.

      CG

    • By the way, “J”:

      “Typically, those who find it funny are thinking the French should have held their ground down to the last man.”

      The Poles did. The Czecks did. The Russians did. The Dutch did their best. And the Brits certainly would have, and went the extra mile by sending their forces, and organizing their civilians as well, against an invasion that everyone thought was coming.

      The French? They opened their loving arms to the “Huns” (as you say) and let them party in Paris for five years. There were individual acts of great bravery, to be sure. But the general attitude was business as usual, and let’s just get along with Uncle Adolph.

      CG

      • They opened their loving arms to the “Huns”

        More than 100000 french military casualties in may-june 1940, some of the bitter fights were in june when the french were absolutly alone, in the Somme area or even in the last days with ad hoc formations and unpainted factories tanks which sometimes lacked ammo, machine guns, optics or even the main gun. Several hundred of Luftwaffe planes destroyed (so less power for them in the Battle of England) the Army of the alps repelled the italian attack and was forming a last ditch front against the germans just before the armistice. Many fortress troops of the Maginot line only accepted the armistice in july, sometimes several weeks after it was signed when visited by french officers. Add to to that one of the worst civilian refugees crisis in modern europe, milions of civilians on the roads, to the south, bombarded and strafed by german airplanes to create chaos on the roads…
        Maybe you should check out the may-june campaing, especially the ”battle of France” wich is nearly totally unknown in the english-speaking world before writing some really ignorant rant about how they openned they arms. After the defeat yes it was survival, no ”business as usual” and not only in France.
        Ah, and 20 years before that France lost more men in 4 years of fight that the USA in all his military history, again maybe that’s why in the 30s they weren’t to hot about another military adventure alone against Germany. And it is very easy to rewrite History with ”what if” 70 years after.

        • Here are two words for you to look up: Vichy Government.

          Getting along with the Germans was most certainly official French policy, and not just for a few minutes. It went on for years, and a lot of the French you are venerating with your revisionist history made a lot of money on it.

          Yes, individual commanders, and many units put up a brave struggle, for a little while. But far more took a look around, decided who would win, and went from there. I’m sorry that it’s hard for you to hear, but that’s what happened.

          Yes, there were reprisals – brutal, cruel murders, at 100 to 1 ratios. This is a measure of Nazi ruthlessness, not French heroism.

          While the US and England were taking in refugees, and Denmark and Holland carefully hiding or moving their Jews, what did France do? They handed them over.

          We’re not talking about “what ifs” here (and if we are please point them out). We are talking about history.

          CG

      • The French soldiers who did not flee to fight another day were either propped as puppets or used as hostages. For every dead German soldier 10 French prisoners were hanged or killed by tank cannons. This was the reprisal instituted when resistance units began knifing occupation troops in their beds.

      • CG, this is simply not the case. On paper, Poland had a large and powerful armed forces. The entire Polish state was crushed and dismembered by Germany attacking from the west after 1 September 1939, and the Soviets after 17 Sept. Very many Poles evacuated to France and England where they continued to fight. Others were put in camps by the USSR (massacred officers at Katyn and elsewhere). Poles evacuated from the USSR to fight alongside the Allies. Poles in the USSR ultimately formed armies under Soviet tutelage and fought the Germans. Some Poles fought in the AK Home Army, many fought Ukrainians. All were repressed postwar.

        The Czechs did not fight in their own nation until late in the war. But many Czechs fought in France and the UK.

        The Dutch suffered terribly under German occupation. On the other hand, the weak Dutch army was relatively quickly subdued by the Germans, surrendering on 15 May 1940. And many Dutch volunteered for the SS to fight in Russia. That said, tens of thousands of Dutch men and women starved, or died in German camps.

        There was collaboration. There was resistance. There was much “attentisme” or sitting on the fence, waiting to see which way things were going. You cannot gainsay the 27 allied United Nations who together defeated German ultra-nationalism and fascism. It took them all to beat Hitler, even if most of the blood shed was the USSR…

        • “There was collaboration. There was resistance.”
          Important facts. I am glad that here we are trying to untwist history, which was several time times by evil-malicious history twisters for their personal gain and also unintentionally by useful idiots repeating version of that first. The main conflict here seems between France=Collaborator hypothesis and France=Resistance hypothesis supporters. Declaring one to be total truth would be handy, but both are not 100%, as there were French resistance members as well collaborators.
          To avoid any emotion-contaminated disputes giving statistical data would be best solution, however this is not possible as for obvious Resistance did not distribute ID cards for own members, also deciding he was/was not collaborator might be not easy, sometime person believed to be collaborator was in fact Resistance, see for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Stosskopf

  2. Oh – and any MAS 36 rifles captured from the French in Indochina would have been captured by the Viet Minh, not the Viet Cong (more formally the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam, Việt cộng being a derisive term created by the other side) which did not exist until 1954.

  3. You disapoint me, Ian. Any true francophile would know that the right term for this situation is not “mon dieu !” but “putain !” :p

    • Referring to Petain’s failure to lead? Why not just condemn the entire general staff for failing to call Hitler’s bluff by means of massive nighttime indiscriminate carpet-bombing of south-western Germany?

      • Condemn the entire general staff, mes amis.

        As a U.S. citizen, I’m mighty glad that France came and “bailed us out” vis-á-vis the UK colonial overlords. Despite our own “quasi-war” with France, the USA and France have long been firm friends, although while we North Americans can thank them for the Statue of Liberty, perhaps we might scold and chide each other for the whole Vietnam debacle? France couldn’t have sought to impose colonial rule on Indochine without U.S. help. The U.S. wanted to keep France in Nato, and so lent them the means to wage war… Admittedly, at the time the U.S. was embroiled in the Korean War, and keeping Taiwan in the hands of the KMT/Guomindang versus Mao’s PLA… So the anti-communist/anti-Asian nationalism/ anti-Japanese colonialism orientation seemed to figuratively “make sense” given the mindsets of the day…

        France has long been cursed by wretched generals. These men have led valorous and brave French fighting men into defeats at the 1870 first battle of Sedan, the horrors of the 1914 “offensive a outrance” Plan XVII “Battle of the Frontiers” with fully 7k KIA more than the UK lost on the opening day of the Somme, the April 1917 “Nivelle offensive” and most notoriously, the fiasco of June 1940, where a French army possessed of superior tanks, qualitatively and quantitatively, and a very proficient army lost to the Germans due to terrible communications, and ponderously slow and dull refusals to carry out necessary offensive moves. Heinz Guderian literally disobeyed orders to halt to let the infantry catch up… “Auftragstaktik” vs. stubborn refusal to actually do anything until the higher ups gave the word… We can all be thankful that while Prussian militarism perfected tactical dexterity, the Germans lose at war due to the bigger, strategic picture.

        5km into Saar did little to aid Poland. A full-blown offensive to hive off the West bank of the Rhine? Now yer talkin’! Didn’t happen. Instead, just the “drole de guerre” or Sitzkrieg or Phony War…

      • “putain !” does not refer to Pétain, it simply means “shit !” or “fuck !” or any generic swear word you might come up with in a bad situation. Thibaud did not mean to start any historical argument.

  4. France lagging behind on development of the automatic rifle is not a surprise. Remember that everyone was suffering from the Great Depression in Continental Europe. And France was hit very hard. But most German soldiers had bolt-action rifles as primary weapons, so both sides were equally matched in the case of infantry skirmishes without tanks, planes, or artillery. I also recall some discussion last month about how Italy failed at beating French mountain forts. Never mind that the Battle of France was nearly over, the Italians were slaughtered by disproportionately few French defenders… and neither side willingly put up white flags. I could be wrong.

    • “But most German soldiers had bolt-action rifles as primary weapons, so both sides were equally matched in the case of infantry skirmishes without tanks, planes, or artillery”
      Even assuming that bolt-action are similar enough fire-power wise, but can be it said about machine guns?

      • In 1940 the Germans had LESS MG than the French :
        Around 150,000 for the Germans (MG34, MG13, MG08, MG08/15, MG 12/24, ZB26, ZB30, ZB53…)
        Around 190,000 for the French (Châtellerault FM 24/29 , CSRG 15 Chauchat, Hotchkiss 1914, St Etienne 1907, a few Hotchkiss 1922/34 …)

        There were around 135,000 Châtellerault FM 1924/29 against 85,000 MG34 in May 1940.

        • How many MG-34’s could be produced compared to FM 24/29’s in a given week on the same monetary budget? And which was more user friendly in the field?

          • Where was the “Armée de l’Aire?” Hmm? A traffic jam of vehicles though Luxembourg into the Rhineland? No major bombing attacks until the ill-fated attempt to blow the bridges at Sedan (*ahem* the _second_ battle of Sedan) when British and French aircraft were lost in droves to little effect… Why would the superior tanks– a Hotchkiss light tank had a dated 37mm cannon but fully 15mm more armor than the “best” Mark IV German “medium tank”–not be used more effectively?

            The UK, France, and Germany all had infantry squads based around LMGs and so the remainder of the “section” used bolt-action rifles: Bren LMG, every member of the section carried extra Bren magazines–FM 24/29 and various iterations of bolt-action rifles and rifle grenades–MG34 (enormously expensive!) and some bolt-action rifles…

          • @Dave Carlson…

            Where, indeed? A lot of folks forget the active sabotage carried out by the Communists in France at the behest of Stalin through the COMINTERN. The activities of Pierre Cot as Air Minister during the run-up to the war bear interesting consideration, in terms of asking why the French aviation forces were so ineptly run and poorly prepared for war.

            One would do well to examine the history of pre-WWII France, and even the period during the German conquest, and ask yourself just how much of the French failure to effectively defend France stemmed from active and passive sabotage by the Communists in their government. Up until Hitler turned on Stalin, they were in partnership, and the orders had gone out to Communists worldwide. Look how the Communist party here in the US turned on a dime, the day Barbarossa started…

            These are all things carefully left out of most history classes, because the majority of the academic world is run by left-wing sympathizers who refuse to acknowledge the Soviet Union’s role in enabling the Nazis.

  5. “also recall some discussion last month about how Italy failed at beating French mountain forts. Never mind that the Battle of France was nearly over, the Italians were slaughtered by disproportionately few French defenders… and neither side willingly put up white flags.”
    It is not surprise that well-placed fortress give advantage for defenders.
    Although World War II was mainly warfare of movement, fortresses were employed.
    Consequently anti-fortress weapons and tactics were developed, famous conquering of Eben Emael fort was done with usage of gliders, very innovative and thus surprising method, more conservative method in form of super-heavy artillery (itself becoming relict of past during that war) aimed for crushing enemy fortresses was under development.

  6. Interested to know how the locking lug recesses were cut in this and similar rear locking bolt rifles, as I can’t work out how any cutter could get access inside there ?

    Looking in a Lee Enfield the recess seem to have end mill marks. I’m baffled.

  7. I can attest, having used my 1946 MAS Mle. 1936 service rifle in a 200-yard match not long ago, that the 20mm bolt can override the top cartridge and close on an empty magazine. Thus, the bolt is thrown open, and then returned to battery, starting the order of operations, and chambering the top 7.5mm cartridge.

    What I have found in researching the rifle is that it is typically dismissively referred to as “the last bolt action rifle design adopted by a major power.” It’s as if there is nothing more to be said. In fact, it has the aperture sights of the American M1917 Enfield rifle, the rear locking lugs are to improve performance in the mud and shorten the throw of the bolt, it has the charger/stripper-clip loading of the Mauser, and the bolt is copied from the Arisaka, i.e. incredibly robust, simple, and easy to maintain. A hybrid design with many excellent features. The French Mle. 1940 self-loading rifle would have been a five-shot rifle produced on many of the same machines and industrial plant, tooling, etc. As it happened, the MAS-44 and postwar MAS-49 replaced the flush mounted 5-round magazine with a detachable 10-rd. box magazine–with four issued with the rifle, plus several bandoliers/boxes of pre-packaged ammunition on stripper clips.

    The German Heer only officially adopted the Kar98k in 1935… The French army was a year later, 1936. But the Kar98 was based on an 1898 Mauser design that was “unimprovable?” Look at Ian’s points about the 65 parts! Least number of parts of any WWII service rifle, as far as I can tell, although certainly the Mosin-Nagant and so-called “last ditch” Arisakas vie for very few as well…

    The UK only adopted the Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk.I in November 1939, two months into WWII. Again, this was an attempt to have a heavier barrel and aperture sights of the P14/American Enfield, and the robust handling qualities of the SMLE while also making it cheaper to produce… Didn’t really show up in quantity until Dieppe, 1942 and after. What was the unit cost vs. the MAS 36? Why isn’t it described as “the last bolt action rifle design adopted by a major power?” because it used a rimmed cartridge long overdue for replacement? Because it was really just a tarted-up M1907 Lee Enfield Short Rifle? Note well that it served until 1957, just as the MAS 36 soldiered on to the decolonization/ Wars of National Liberation period in the 1960s.

    Best for last: In January 1944 the USSR determined that the “new” standard service rifle until the SKS carbine came online would be the shortened Mosin-Nagant M38 carbine–handy and short in length, used by motorized units, cavalry, artillery, etc.–but with a throwback to the age of musketry in the form of a bayonet that unlike the outmoded socket bayonet of the 1891/30 that was supposed to remain fixed for much of the time, but could be removed and thereby lost could never be removed from the carbine! Folded down and out of the way while riding in a train or a truck… Fixed when going into action. “The last bolt action rifle design fielded by a major power?” Um, no, it was just the last iteration of a fairly un-ergonomic 1891 bolt-action rifle design!

    • “(…)“The last bolt action rifle design fielded by a major power?” Um, no, it was just the last iteration of a fairly un-ergonomic 1891 bolt-action rifle design!(…)”
      Ok, to be precise it was last newly-designed (designed from scratch) rifle adopted as general issue rifle for infantry (sniper bolt-action rifles would be adopted from time to time). That is example, why not to generalize.

    • “Best for last: In January 1944 the USSR determined that the “new” standard service rifle until the SKS carbine came online would be the shortened Mosin-Nagant M38 carbine–handy and short in length, used by motorized units, cavalry, artillery, ”
      Again I am confused about US taxonomy, isn’t is rifle and is carbine attributes mutually exclusive? Or carbines is subset of rifles?
      Assuming second (then every carbine is rifle) I don’t know what was latter adopted, mentioned Soviet pattern 1944 carbine xor British Rifle No. 5 Mk I?

      • All carbines are rifles but in the past most short rifles could have been called carbines. Ian has talked about ‘long rifle’ and ‘carbines’ versions of a few guns in the past. The Winchester and various British Lee’s for a start.

      • I stand corrected! merci/spacibo/thanks! The British “jungle carbine”– still using the Lee Enfield action was adopted after the 7,62mm Karabina obr. 1844-g.

        Relying on dated information, there is a version of events that has it that so many were produced that there were ideas about it becoming the new “go to” bolt action rifle for the UK, and not just in Kenya, Malaya, and other wars accompanying de-colonisation… But in the end the No.4 Mk.I and Mk.I* and Mk.II soldiered on in that role.

        Recall that production of the M44 carbine continued until 1948 in the USSR, and much later in satellite Warsaw Pact nations, e.g. Poland, Romania, Hungary.

        All carbines are rifles, but not all rifles are carbines. In the U.S. nomenclature/ taxonomy the carbine is typically a rifle with a barrel 20-inches or shorter in length. The flies in the ointment, so-to-speak, are the usage of the German Karabiner to refer to the Kar98k, which is pretty much a “short rifle” on par with the SMLE, M1903 Springfield, etc. and the U.S. Carbine, cal. .30 M1, which is a wholly new application of “carbine” since the snazzy “PDW” had not been conjured up yet…

        As for collaboration, some of the last German units defending Berlin included the French SS volunteers and the SS Wikinger made up of Scandinavians. Timothy Snyder’s study of eastern Europe finds cases of “Askaris” or “Polizei” “Hilfer des Deutsche Wehrmacht” who switched sides and joined the Soviet power/ partisans… There are many such examples it seems.

        • If you ever read Len Deighton’s cold war thriller “Funeral in Berlin,” you’ll remember a scene where four spies are getting drunk in Slovakia — a KGB Colonel, a Czech Warsaw Pact officer, an American contract agent, and the narrator, a British intelligence bureaucrat. The Soviet is quite sociable, which is confusing to the servile or paranoid Czech, and when toasts are made he settles on “Death to the Fascists!” as a good common sentiment.

          Deighton gives the American a very on-point speech, which goes something like, “You think Fascism is some separate entity outside ourselves. I tell you it is something that rests inside each one of us and must be constantly watched and overcome. So I say, death to the Fascists — in Washington, Moscow, London, and Prague.”

          Every country before World War II had its nests of Fascists, and of Communists (except the USSR where they had kind of merged), and of everybody else — US had CPUSA and the America-Firsters. UK had Mosely and both overt and covert Communists. France had the National Front and its own Communists. Germany we know about. Hungary, Romania, each Yugoslav republic, Poland, you name it.

          Each country taken by Nazi Germany provided a puppet Fascist collaborationist government, some more popularly-supported than others, some more puppet-like than others, but all of them built upon the bases of their pre-war fascist political parties. Each country had its Resistance movements, sometimes factionalized, sometimes unified, some more Communist-based than others. (Compare France to Denmark to Yugoslavia, for example.)

          That Germany could overcome Poland was a matter of treachery and alliance with the USSR. That it could defeat Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Holland was a matter of fresh tactical doctrine. That Nazi Germany could overcome France and seriously hurt Russia was both modern doctrine and luck, along with insufficiently modern military thinking in France and the USSR. That the UK survived was a matter of geography, luck, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

          Each country had its heroes, its cowards, its soldiers and citizens of all stripes in between. As someone at InrangeTV said, infantry rifles don’t win or lose wars, strategic weapons and doctrine do. Individual soldiers, national populations, can’t be characterized by victory or defeat. For each rifle dropped by someone who surrendered there were many more that were dropped when the owner became a casualty — in France and everywhere else.

          Maybe Mr. M should have put ironic quote marks around, or a question mark after, the slogan on the T-shirt to make it clearer where his sympathies lay.

          • Every European officer corps and general staff understood that firepower, exemplified by machine guns and quick-firing artillery, let alone smokeless repeating magazine rifles favored the defense over the offense. Yet after keenly appreciating it first hand, as in 1870-71 and innumerable colonial wars–by 1913 it was assumed that only human spirit and ingenuity in the offense could win battles. Hence Lt.Col. JFC Fuller’s criticism of the French generals as having all the tactical perspicacity of the Dervishes of the Sudan.

            French 1913 Regulations: “The French army, returning to its traditions [!] henceforth knows no law but the offensive.” Entirely predictable result: The Battle of the Frontiers. And yet they were shocked–shocked!–by trench warfare… On the other hand, as the aggrieved nationalism in this very thread demonstrates–the generals had the lost territory of Alsace-Lorraine/Elsaß-Lottringer to liberate! National honor to redeem! The besmirching of national reputation to revenge!

            Twenty years later, French generals keenly understood the problems they faced, and had honed and perfected the winning recipe of WWI. With the need to vastly more, militarily, with far fewer men, technology would be the answer. So the “super-trench” Maginot ouvrages, best tanks–albeit cheap in some regards–etc. etc. But command and control, even radios suffered. Operational security assumed such proportions that the officers could not respond until the order had been brought… Often by courier.

            The tragedy of France losing the battle of May-June 1940 is that the pendulum had swung back after twenty years: Offense by concentrated mechanized forces supported by aircraft had superseded the static defensive elements of WWI. The Germans sought to do “more with less” too. 29 postponements of Fall Gelb and its uncharacteristic “go for broke” all-or-nothing, do-or-die qualities attest that the vaunted Wehrmacht was far from ready. A handful of people, Mannstein, Guderian, etc. keenly understood that France was possessed of powerful armed forces–they’d faced them before at great cost. If Germany was to succeed, it had to avoid a repeat of WWI where attrition and naval blockade and the resources available to nations with access to trade all favored the allies… The Germans disobeyed orders of higher-ups in the name of objective/mission-oriented goals–“Auftragstaktik” and pulled it off even if it came close to disaster a number of times.

            To our non-U.S. friends: When the firm friendship of France led to their leaders informing our leaders that attempts to transform the Middle East using the resources of the Pentagon as the midwife was ill-advised, all sorts of Francophobic vitriol and vituperation ensued. So it might astonish, but all sorts of jokes impugning the French appeared: “Q: Why so many trees along French roads? A: So the Germans can march in the shade.” Invective included “cheese eating surrender m******” and “soldiers of surrender” and the like. Remember “Liberty cabbage?” Uh, erm, I mean “Freedom fries?” So the “only dropped once” libel is widely understood here in the U.S., and so it has been flung back as a retort by people who have a greater understanding and appreciation of history and military history… It is used by Ian and others to undercut and repudiate the malign oversimplification and distortion.

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