27 Comments

  1. Impossible to say that this is in France. Waffen-SS loved to use captured weapons, especially in the first years as they have problemas to get them from the german sources in numbers. Czech, austrian, polish weapons and especially russian after the invasion. I have seen tons of pictures of french weapons in hands of occupation troops (second line, static units) in France and maybe in the hand of some volkssturm band, but rarely in other ocasions.
    The r35 (r for ”raccourci”, shortened) is very rare and one of those proofs that the french were desesperate to arm their army with anything at hand in the 30´s. Some ”territorial” (home guard like third line troops) units were equiped with Gras rifle…although I assume the 8×50mmR Lebel variant from WWI. Counting the MAS36 and all the variants of the lebel and berthiers (some of them modernized for the 7.5×54mm) they had maybe nine versions of carbines and rifles in active in 1939.

  2. The R35 was indeed a quick way to obtain a handy carbine out of the stock of obsolescent M 93 Lebel rifles, but the tubular magazine capacity was reduced to just three rounds. But anyway the conversion was straightforward, simple and unexpensive. On the other hand, another French rifle conversion from the same era, planned and executed by the manufacture d’armes de Tulle (MAT), the Modèle 07-15 M34 carbine, became an exercise on getting an over-expensive end product when the original intention was just to obtain a low cost, modernised Berthier in 7.5x54mm with a Mauser-type magazine. It was handy, chambered for the new rifle and mg cartridge but it was also expensive to manufacture (due to the new magazine, I suppose) in the end.

  3. Very likely this picture was made during the invasion of france in 1940 and the Waffen-SS soldier picked up the R35 during fighting. The fact that the other soldier carries a Gew98, which fits the France campaign, makes it seem quite unlikely the (NCO or officer) in the foreground was equipped with a R35. The group also appears to be a front line unit which again makes it less likely they are equipped with R35 rifles.

    By the way: My grandfather Reichsarbeitsdienst unit, in what in now Austria, was equipped with Lebel rifles in 1944-45 though.

    • Yes, and the Swedish m/40 version in 6.5x55mm was used to arm and equip the Home Guard during WWII with a squad automatic rifle using the same 20rd. BAR magazines of the regular forces. Some were distributed to Danish and Norwegian “police” organized and equipped by Sweden as the end of WWII approached. Not well received or popular with troops who used it.

  4. I believe this is a Berthier Mle.1892 artillery carbine, not an R35 Lebel. The downward bulge of the stock just ahead of the triggerguard, and the distance between the barrel bands does not look like the R35.

    • Dan, you’re absolutely right – that’s a Mousqueton d’artillerie Mle 1892: the bands are at different positions (lower band in R35 should be one third length of lower handguard from upper band, and this is two thirds away). Also there’s a straight, rifle type bolt handle in a R35, and you can clearly see a bent bolt handle in the one handled by the Boche in photo. Also, but that can be attributed to the low quality – the wood appears to be continous, one-piece, Berthier-style, rather than a Lebel-style two part, separated by a bare metal receiver. Also, there seems to be darker rectangle at the bottom of rifle in front of the trigger guard, consistent with clip window in Mannlicher-feed system of the Berthier rifles and carbines.

      @Roberto: Judging from lack of Y-straps (combat suspenders) worn by the SS troopers, this definitely seems to be 1940 France at the latest, as the Wehrmacht troops were already wearing Y-straps at that time.

  5. To judge by the leather case on his right hip, the fellow with the carbine is probably the No. 2 of a squad MG team. The case looks like the one issued with the MG-34 to carry the spare firing pin, cleaning kit, etc., which was normally toted by the ammo man.

    It could equally well serve for an “appropriated” French MG, such as the 24/29. If so, the carbine is most likely the Berthier M1907/15/34 “short rifle”, which was rebarreled from 8mm Lebel to 7.5×54 in the mid-1930s. It also was altered to take a 5-round Mauser-type internal magazine instead of the projecting magazine of the 1892/16 carbine, which used a Mannlicher-type 5-shot single-row en bloc clip.

    Just a guess.

    cheers

    eon

    • I copied the photo into my folder on small arms and enlarged it. The rifle in the foreground fellow’s hands is almost certainly a 1907/15/34.

      The one leaning against the equipment bag in the background is a standard Mauser 98k, produced before 1942. You can tell this by the machined steel buttplate and nose cap, as opposed to the stamped parts of the later Kriegsmodell made from 1943 on. Note the ID disc in the stock and the lack of same on the rifle in the foreground, as well as the lack of a sling cut in its stock, which the 98k clearly has.

      cheers

      eon

      • Eon:

        I think it’s more likely an 1892 carbine than a 07/15 M34 rifle. The M34 was almost exactly the same length as a Kar98k at 43″, whereas the 1892 carbine was only 37″ long. Also, the carbine had a turned down bolt handle, like the piece in the photo, whereas the M34 had a straight handle. Since there is actually a Kar98k in this photo for comparison, the piece in question does look shorter than it, and hence I would think it is the 1892 carbine. I must say however that the M34 rifle was rather an elegant piece, much more so that the chunky MAS36.

    • Eon, that’s a map case. Combined with the binos it makes me think he’s actually an officer. Looks like -might- have the mag pouches on his left hip.

  6. As we have established, that is indeed an 1892 Berthier carbine, not the Lebel 1886 R 35 carbine. One thing which puzzles me, now that I have thought about it, is why the French Army in 1935 chose to shorten the 1886 Lebel rifle to such a short carbine length? Since it has a tube magazine, the 18″ barrel meant it could only hold three rounds. If the long 1886 rifle had been shortened to the sort of length of an SMLE, with a 24″ barrel, it would have been a handy rifle with a magazine capacity of five rounds. I wonder if they wanted such a short carbine as a handy weapon to carry around in the tunnels of the Maginot Line? There must be some reason why the 1886 Lebel was shortened to such an extreme extent.

    • The Maginot line installations would certainly favor a shorter carbine, but IIRC the main users of the “shortened” Lebel were to be bicycle troops and artillery.

      A full length rifle is an even worse beast to manage when riding a bicycle than it is on horseback, even assuming (as the French army did) that you won’t be shooting while “mounted”.

      And artillery was generally supposed to be towed by the Chenillette light tracked vehicle, rather like a British Universal Carrier (Bren carrier) only smaller with twin hatches instead of an open top;

      http://oi57.tinypic.com/2w2kais.jpg

      Even an SMLE would be a nightmare to get in and out of that thing, and there weren’t enough MAS38 SMGs to go around.

      cheers

      eon

      • Eon:

        You may well be right, but most other armies managed with rifles of around 45″, and the great disadvantage of the R35 was its three round capacity. I cannot believe it would have been an effective combat weapon.

        I wonder if the French ever gave consideration to converting Lebels to a more normal box magazine configuration? Given the way the rifle is made, they could have kept the barrel, bolt and wooden furniture, and just changed the action, substituting a magazine for the shell lifter. I cannot think it would have been too difficult, but perhaps no-one had the will to contemplate working on two million Lebels. I suppose for a bureaucrat, the eight round tube magazine must have seemed acceptable, so why bother?

        • From one comment I read about full length Lebel somewhere on a previous article, 2 more bullet can be added : 1 in elevator and one in chamber.
          Such way you got a 3+2 shot R35.

          • The 5-round total capacity is technically possible, but 4 rounds is probably a better practical idea. The Lebel has no manual safety, so carrying one in the chamber and cocked isn’t a very safe option.

        • They did. It was the Lebel M27. Same idea as the Berthier 1907/15 M34. It turned out to be cost prohibitive. The first version was chambered for the prototype 7.5×58 cartridge.

          • Interesting. I thought cost would have something to do with it. Obviously, the people making these decisions are not the people who have to carry the wretched things in combat. However, I am pleased to know that the idea is feasible.

  7. I own a Berthier ‘Artillery Musketoon’ and believe I can answer the question above in two ways. There’s quite a few of them in Australia as many of us are rather heavily into WWI rifles and a hell of a lot of foreign ones came back as souvenirs in 1918-19.

    The first is that the ‘Artillery Musketoon’ was originally a carbine version of the standard infantry rifle and designed to be issued to artillery units. Makes sense, it’s their secondary weapon after all so a carbine is fine.

    However, in WWI trench conditions it proved to be very popular with line infantry for obvious reasons and more were made. Now, mine does not have a matching number on it, and this caused me to ask questions a few years ago.

    The French fought like wild men with serious anger management issues in WWI and their losses in men and materiel were surreal. So bad were the losses that they could not waste anything. So they had units of maimed men (one arm, half-blind, one leg etc) searching old battlefields for anything useful, which included lots of broken/damaged Berthiers. There were shipped back to arsenals and parted. being a long barrelled rifle, often they were able to save a barrel by shortening it to carbine (artillery musketoon) length. Grab the other parts, reassemble and hey presto, a ‘new’ rifle or carbine. So mine’s a ‘battlefield salvage’ musketoon as every part has a different number (and don’t get me started in the two-part bolt).

    Cheers: Mark

  8. Oh, one final thing. I fire it at the range on reduced load (I do not overstrain these old warhorses) and the muzzle flash is really a sight to behold.

    Cheers: mark

  9. I’d just add that the camo jackets the men are wearing look nearly new. Anyone who ever wore cotton-based camouflage garments gets a sense of how the colors fade and the stiff fabric softens with time and laundering.

    The embankment could be anywhere, as railway and road cuts and fills look like that, too. These guys have been stopped for a while, or they have stopped where another unit was for a while, judging by the hasty positions (foxholes). The holes don’t look too well thought-out, suggesting perhaps green leadership, but that could just be a photo angle thing. We don’t know what we don’t know, including what’s outside the frame of the photo.

    • “The holes don’t look too well thought-out, suggesting perhaps green leadership, but that could just be a photo angle thing.”

      The SS were generally known for an excess of zeal and a corresponding deficiency of technical military skill, especially in the upper ranks. High casualty rates were often a result.

  10. These Germans could be taking part in the retaking of the Vercors plateau in the South East near the Swiss border in 1944. I’ve read that the 50,000 M.34s that were completed went to the Fortress Infantry regiments. The Alpine fortresses never fell to storm but surrendered after successfully fending off Mussolini’s uncoordinated and clumsy attacks after the Armistice of 1940. Thus, the defenders had time to possibly smuggle their weapons to future Resistance arsenals. And so when the Germans crushed and scattered the Vercors Macquis in 1944, M.34s could have been among the Macquis weapons.

  11. Thanks for this. My Grandfather, who was a coxswain in the U.S. Navy aboard L.S.T. 372, piloted Higgins boats (I did mean plural, he survived a few of them being destroyed) at Normandy, brought home an Mle 1916 from that campaign. He also brought home a (very small) German helmet, goggles, belt buckle (aluminum, I believe).

    Ah, I have a question. At one time there was a round that as a child I assumed went with the rifle, but thinking back it looked pretty different from the 8mm Lebel rounds that I’ve seen. In any case, it had a wooden bullet. Any information on what this would have been for? Unfortunately it seems that it’s been discarded by someone.

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