Adventures in Surplus: Early Battle-Worn Berthier 1907-15

Today we are taking a look at a really interesting Mle 1907-15 Berthier rifle. This was the substitute pattern adopted by France as an infantry rifle to supplement the Lebel in 1915, and this particular one is one of the very first examples made. It has a carbine-style bent bolt handle, which was used only for the first few months of production, and retains a legible military acceptance stamp dated September 1915.

This rifle was damaged in combat soon after being issued, and was repaired with a new bolt. That bolt was also an early bent-handle type, and it was renumbered for match the rifle. The gun went back into combat, and this time was captured in the field by German forces. It was overhauled by a German depot, had its bayonet guide lugs removed to fit a German bayonet adapter (now missing, alas), and the stock was stamped “Deutsches Reich” on the stock.

At the end of the war it ended up in the hands of an American solder, and was brought back to the US as a souvenir. Whether it was recaptured by the French and traded from a French soldier, or taken directly from a German prisoner or depot, who have no way of knowing…


  1. That rifle tells a very interesting story in your expert hands, Ian. Could the holes in the wrist been from an attempt at reinforcing the stock w/ nails that were then hammered out?

  2. Looks like the 8 holes were made with a triangular implement. Perhaps a trench knife. . .? Trying to think if I have even seen a tack with a triangular shank. Efficient use of history. One rifle representing two combatant nations.

  3. I can only imagine that any Berthiers that the Germans captured would have been issued to rear echelon troops. I cannot imagine any German soldier would have been impressed to have been issued a Berthier rather than a Mauser.

  4. Had a girlfriend like that, first a french guy, then a german guy, then me, probably off with a brit now…..

  5. Is that the remains of another stamp on the right side of the barrel up by rear sight? Visible at intervals between 9,20 and 11,45 on the video time bar.

  6. The reason for the ground-off bayonet lug could be more profane. In the nineteen sixties and seventies, in German gun regulations a gun was considered weapon of war if a bayonet lug was present and the sights weren’t blocked at 300 m. Such a gun was prohibited to own privately, even if it was a Berthier.
    In today’s perspective, this might sound crazy, but remember that the war hadn’t ended tooo long ago and and bolt action rifles were still in military service in some armies. Even Police &customs had to follow that, just google “Zollkarabiner”
    Therefore, a lot of surplus bolt actions were mutilated by adding a weld to the rear sight and grinding off the bayonet lug.
    You still see stuff like that surfacing at German gun shops and I guess a lot of these guns are exported to the US these days.
    Regards, the Freihandschütze

    • You are probably right, it is typical of the sort of pettifogging bullshit which passes for gun control legislation. Fine to own a rifle, but don’t dare stick a bayonet on it!

      I must say the Berthier is a very elegant rifle, in the way a Lebel just isn’t. I think it was a shame the French decided to change the turned down bolt handle which works well, in favour of the straight handle of the Lebel, which is neither as good to look at, nor as easy to use.

  7. Ian, that is a long way back from the bayonet lugs but you have handled the rifle and I have not. I also doubt that even the slightest hit of a stamp would have dared to avoid your expert scrutiny. Great videos as always.

  8. As for the 8 holes in the stock, I have seen some pics of rifles with a rawhide or canvas wrap on the wrist, designed to improve the user’s grip when the rifle is wet, slimy with mud, etc. The holes may have been for small nails designed to hold such equipment?

    Regardless, great summary on the pretty Berthier, particularly tracking its now silent history back through multiple owners and the horrendous events of WWI

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